Orbital debris, satellites and space technology research remain front and center in the finalized version of the defense spending bill.
The finalized version of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act—which approves $858 billion in funding in fiscal year 2023—contains several initiatives to address space policy and technology that survived reconciliation between the House and Senate versions of the new defense spending act.
The 2023 bill includes a measure to address orbital debris—or space junk—that would require the secretary of defense to submit a report “on the risks posed by man-made space debris in low-Earth orbit.” The report must include: an explanation of risks to defense and national security space items; recommendations to mitigate these risks; and plans to reduce space debris.
Space debris is an issue that has been gaining growing interest, not only from Congress, but also from NASA and the Federal Communications Commission. The version included in the 2023 NDAA is more similar to the House version of the amendment, which required a report on orbital debris.
A portion of the new bill also asks the secretary of defense to implement a strategy for increasing competitive opportunities for certain critical technologies, including space tech. This strategy should: “increase competitive opportunities available for appropriate United States companies to transition critical technologies into major weapon systems and other programs of record,” among other things.
The bill also has several provisions on satellites, including:
- Requirements and strategies to protect satellites from adversaries targeting, degrading or destroying them.
- A modification for satellite acquisition program funding and integration, that removes the requirement for the Government Accountability Office to review certain non-integrated programs in 10 U.S. Code § 2275 subsection f(3).
Additionally, the 2023 NDAA has a section on applied research and educational activities to support the development of space technologies through the end of 2027. This includes looking at: “space domain awareness; positioning, navigation and timing; communications; hypersonics; cybersecurity; and any other matter the Secretary of the Air Force considers relevant.”
The bill also retained a Senate amendment requiring the director of National Intelligence, the secretaries of State, Defense and Commerce, and the NASA administrator—as well as the heads of other agencies the director deems necessary—to collectively create and submit to Congress a report on responsible international norms, rules and principles applicable for space, which includes identifying weapons that could degrade or destroy satellites, as well as an analysis “of the extent to which adversary space faring foreign nations use civilian and commercial space assets and civilian and commercial space relationship, to advance military and intelligence programs and activities.”
The National Reconnaissance Office would also be required to issue a plan to Congress to transition itself to a digital engineering environment to decrease “the time to field new space systems” and minimize adversaries outpacing the United States for new generations of space systems.
Lastly, the bill outlines spending for space research, development, testing and evaluation for various programs.
Congress must vote on this version of the defense spending bill before the end of the current legislative session for it to make it to the president’s desk and become law.