The 2017 NASA Authorization Act, recently signed into law by President Donald Trump, will only cover the space agency’s activities for the current fiscal year. With the long-term space program in mind, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space, has already started on a new authorization bill as well as a follow-up to his commercial launch bill passed in 2015.

Cruz promises to consult a broad range of people in Congress, the aerospace industry, and the Trump administration in his crafting of the legislation.

The senator from Texas proposes to chart the future course of space exploration for many years to come.

Cruz’s first task will be to fix the mistakes made during the Obama era, especially since they pertain to space exploration. With media reports stating that the Trump administration is interested in going back to the moon, Cruz will have to incorporate that strategy into the bill.

Second, Cruz will have to define what the proper role the commercial space sector will be in future exploration.

The Obama administration basically turned Earth to low Earth orbit transportation to commercial providers, albeit with generous NASA subsidies, but was silent where deep space exploration is concerned. So far the so-called Journey to Mars is a traditional NASA-centric program, using hardware such as the Orion and the heavy lift Space Launch System to send people to the Red Planet.

Cruz is unlikely to advocate canceling the Orion or the SLS as some have advocated.

Congress would revolt against deep-sixing the second space transportation system in a row with the cost of many billions of dollars. But he might add to Orion/SLS commercially acquired launchers, spacecraft, landers, surface habitats, and other hardware. The exploration of space could become a joint NASA-commercial effort, taking advantage of the strengths of both partners. The commercial space sector can address projects with flexibility, bringing things in cheaper than the space agency could using traditional procurement methods.

NASA brings to the partnership experience and institutional knowledge that the space companies might lack.

Work on the legislation is likely to begin in earnest later in 2017.

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