Space Policy Online reported on Monday that the full Senate passed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, S. 1297, sponsored by Sen, Ted Cruz, R-Texas. The bill, which was not controversial, passed with unanimous consent. The Senate passed bill dealt with a number of space-related issues, including codifying into law the extension of the International Space Station’s operations to the year 2024. Of the international partners, Russia and Canada have agreed to the extension, but approval is still pending from Japan and the European Union. The bill insures that the ISS will continue to function as the United States ramps up its program of deep space exploration.
The bill also:
- extends to 2020 the “learning period” for commercial human spaceflight whereby the FAA cannot promulgate new regulations except under certain circumstances (sometimes called a “moratorium,” it currently expires on September 30, 2015);
- extends FAA’s authority to indemnify commercial space launch companies from third party liability claims for certain amounts of money until 2020 (current authority expires on December 31, 2016);
- establishes a new “Government Astronaut” category of passenger on commercial spaceflights separate from crew and spaceflight participants;
- asks the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in consultation with NASA and other government agencies, to assess and recommend approaches for the oversight of commercial space activities; and
- asks for a report on how to streamline the process for obtaining licenses and permits for innovative launch vehicles, such as hybrids that use both aircraft and rockets.
Cruz took the opportunity to invoke President Ronald Reagan, whose administration saw the first serious commercial space legislation.
“In 1984, President Reagan ushered in a new era of space exploration when he signed the first Commercial Space Launch Act, which recognized the vital role the private sector plays, along with NASA, that will contribute to continued American leadership in space. The 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act builds on that legacy, keeps the ISS operational through 2024, and encourages dynamic growth of the commercial space industry both here in Texas and across the country.”
Other sponsors of the legislation included Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, Gary Peters, D-Mich., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Cory Gardner, R-Colorado. Nelson is the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee. Peters is the ranking member of that committee’s Science, Space, and Competitiveness Subcommittee of which Cruz is the chairman. Rubio, a member of the subcommittee, is a presidential candidate, as is Cruz.
The bill represents a continuation of a rare bi-partisan consensus that the government should treat the emerging commercial space sector with a light regulatory hand. Indeed, the government is taking an active role in encouraging the development of launch and other space-based companies.