The United States Senate on Tuesday, June 8 passed a spending bill that would allocate nearly $ 250 billion for American scientific and technical research, including $ 10 billion for the development of private manned landers for Nasa.
The US innovation and competition law was passed by the Senate by 68 votes to 32. As its name suggests, the bill aims to strengthen US industrial and technological competitiveness, primarily with China.
The bill, which was previously known as the Endless Frontiers Act, includes an amendment recently added by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). Amendment would grant NASA just over $ 10 billion for the development of manned lunar landers to be used by the agency Artemis program, which is working to establish a lasting human presence on and around the moon by the end of the 2020s.
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In April, NASA announced that it had awarded SpaceX a $ 2.9 billion contract to complete work on his Starship vehicle and use it as an Artemis lander. The agency chose Starship over two other private landers – one offered by Dynetics and one designed by the “national team”, which is run by Jeff Bezos’ space flight company, Blue origin.
Dynetics and the national team soon filed protests with the US Government Accountability Office, claiming the selection process was flawed. The two teams claimed that NASA should have awarded two contracts at this point, as the agency had said it wanted to do, to maintain competition and redundancy.
But NASA officials said the money Congress has allocated so far is only enough to support the development of a single-crew Artemis lander. And that’s where the US innovation and competition law and the $ 10 billion amendment come in.
The Cantwell Amendment invokes the need for NASA to have multiple Artemis lander options at this point. It doesn’t specify that one of them must be built by the national team, but the fact that it represents Blue Origin’s home state has led some people to make that assumption. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), for example, called on his colleagues to get rid of the “Bailout of Bezos”.
This did not happen in the Senate. But that could still be the case in the US House of Representatives; the US law on innovation and competition has yet to be approved by this chamber.
“The US Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which includes the NASA Authorization Bill, is an investment in scientific research and technological innovation that will help ensure that the United States continues to lead in space and puts us on track for many moon landings in this decade, ”NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Tuesday in a statement. “I applaud the passage of the bill by the Senate and look forward to working with the House to bring it into law.”
Mike Wall is the author of “Over there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book on the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.