Space Commission bill passes the Legislature

This session’s key legislation addressing commercial growth and innovation in the Texas space industry passed the Legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Here’s what you need to know about House Bill 3447, authored by Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, and sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

HB 3447 creates two entities — the Texas Space Commission and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium — and establishes a fund, the Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund. The first two entities are governed separately and will serve different functions.

Breaking down the Space Commission

The Texas Space Commission will be governed by a nine-member board that has the authority for the following activities:

  • Directing the goals of the commission.
  • Identifying research and funding opportunities that further Texas’ leadership in space research and development as well as space flight infrastructure.
  • Promoting workforce training around emerging technologies needed for space exploration.
  • Developing a strategic plan for the promotion of space, aeronautics and aviation economic development that includes a list of projects with an estimated cost attached.
  • Requesting proposals on funding and research opportunities from the Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium as well as engaging with the consortium on planning and coordinating space educational opportunities within the state.

Additionally, the board may solicit and accept gifts or grants as well as award grants to public or private persons to encourage space-related economic development. The board may also award grants to higher education institutions involved in classified research, as well as provide matching funds to funds received from external sources, including federal agencies, private industry and private research organizations.

Understanding the research consortium

The Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium is composed of each institution of higher education in the state and will be governed by a nine-member executive committee that includes representatives from major university systems in the state.

According to the bill, the consortium will primarily serve to identify opportunities for research that promote commercial space activity and economic development in the state and enhance the state’s competitive position in space-related fields. The consortium and its executive committee will also make recommendations to the space commission about the use of space-related funds or research opportunities, as well as develop a statewide strategic plan to promote the aims of the consortium.

Similar to the space commission board, the consortium’s executive committee may also solicit and accept gifts, grants and donations from public or private sources on behalf of the consortium.

The last item — the Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund — is established as a trust fund outside the treasury and will be administered by the space commission. The fund will be composed of gifts, grants and donations to the commission, as well as any funding designated by the Legislature. Money available in the fund may be used to provide grants to business or nonprofit entities involved in space exploration and research or the aeronautics industry, as well as governmental entities with which the commission has entered into an intergovernmental agreement. Grants from the fund are designed for the following purposes:

  • Developing emerging technologies for human space flight
  • Space exploration and space flight research
  • Workforce training to promote space exploration and space flight
  • Curation of post-mission materials returned to earth
  • Infrastructure development related to spaceport maintenance and establishment

Breaking down the funding

As we earlier reported, Texas legislators included $350 million in their budget for the Texas Space Commission. We now have a better understanding of how those funds will be used:

The budget appropriates $200 million for the construction of facilities next to the Johnson Space Center. The facilities will be used for mission training, research and the curation of astronautical materials, as well as providing space to support advanced robotics. Texas A&M University will lead the construction in coordination with the JSC.

An additional $150 million will be appropriated from the General Revenue Fund and deposited in the Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund for use by the Texas Space Commission.

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