The House yesterday approved a 1988 defense authorization bill that limits work on the president's space-based antimissile defense program and keeps the administration near key warhead limits set out in the unratified SALT II treaty.

A conference report worked out by House and Senate negotiators -- a measure that provides up to $296 billion in spending, depending upon the defense figure that emerges from deficit reduction negotiations between Congress and the White House -- was approved 264 to 158. President Reagan initially asked for $312 billion.

The Senate plans to take up the issue today and an evening vote is scheduled before the measure can go to the White House.

Although the White House had threatened to veto the bill when the arms control language was more strident, negotiators said they now expected Reagan will sign it to avoid a fractious fight to override a veto in the middle of his planned summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in December.

The White House participated in negotiations over the bill's "Star Wars" provisions.

The bill contains $3.9 billion for work on the antimissile Strategic Defense Initiative and holds the administration to a list of experiments on the missile defense program it submitted earlier in the year.

None of those tests takes the program into the broad interpretation of the 1972 Antiballistic Missile treaty the administration has supported over the objections of many in Congress who believe the treaty strictly limits the program.