Spacelift Washington: RLV Help Proposed for FY02 DoD Budget Bill

Spacelift Washington
Spacelift Washington Archive

WASHINGTON, - A back door maneuver from an unlikely senatorial source may give commercial space supporters an unexpected victory in their quest for industry aid during the year. With a raft of legislation boosting space interests stalled in Congress, New Mexico Republican Senator Pete Domenici is drafting an amendment to the FY2002 Defense Authorization Bill that comes to the aid of reusable launch entrepreneurs. With the Congress about to vote on the defense bill, Domenici's move could be the only pro-space legislation that actually passes before Congress adjourns later this year. That is, if the proposed amendment actually gets tacked onto the DoD bill.

As described by Domenici's office, the proposed rider is one of several the New Mexico Republican is preparing to attach to the military spending measure. The amendment would provide for direct loans and loan guarantees to firms developing commercial reusable space vehicles.

At press time Sept. 28th it was not yet clear now the amendment differs from the proposed launch loan guarantee bill sponsored by Louisiana Democrat Sen. John Breaux in 2000, and which stalled in the Senate. Domenici's text, which was not yet available, was described as making no distinction between launch vehicles and separately developed or designed upper stages. Press reports suggested that the Senator's aim was to funnel more RLV upper stage work to the New Mexico-based Sandia National Laboratories. The lab had done work on nuclear propulsion systems for spacecraft in the past. The price tag for Domenici's bill was $1.5 billion for the loans, guarantees, and administrative costs. The Senator's Washington, DC office said Friday details on this and other proposed spending amendments would be offered during the week of Oct. 1st.

But other political sources said not all of the proposed DoD amendments would even get a hearing on the floor of the Senate, much less voted on as amendments. Congress is racing an October 16th deadline for approving FY2002 budgets, and there is strong sentiment that any obstacles to quick passage be cleared. Nearly all of the work of the House and Senate is likely to be focused on an omnibus spending package that will tie up most of the 13 spending bills now before Congress, with the exceptions of the president's defense and education-related proposals. Neither house has approved a final version of the FY02 NASA budget, elements of which differ substantially from the individual versions passed last summer by the House and Senate.

Domenici's DoD plans and strategies were first reported in the newsletter Aerospace Daily.


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