Sen Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a candidate for president of the United States, is known for quite a few things, including waging fights against Obamacare and illegal immigration. He is not generally known for crafting and passing legislation. However, as the Dallas Morning News reported on Monday, Cruz played a crucial role in writing and then passing the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. The bill, a compromise between a previous Senate and House version, had recently passed the Senate and yesterday passed the House. It is on its way to President Obama for his signature,
Cruz is the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA. He and his House counterpart, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, shepherded the bill that had broad, bi-partisan support through the legislative process.
“Cruz was an author of the original Senate bill that aimed to update the commercial launch act. When the House sent over a bill authored by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (and passed though Smith’s committee) Cruz authored the amendment that merged the two bills.”
“The bill contemplates and will likely speed up the shift, already underway, away from government-funded space travel and into the kind of private rockets that already carry satellites and, in a few cases, people to space. It also extends by four years the life of the International Space Station, whose mission control is located at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“Among its many other provisions …the bill clarifies who is on the hook for losses in the event of a tragedy or other mishap. It continues a risk-sharing approach to liability. It will require launch companies to buy insurance, and calls for the government to ensure some of the risk above those limits. Third-party insurers can be on the hook for the rest.
“The companies won’t be on the hook at all, unless there’s findings of gross negligence or a similarly egregious lack of care.
“In addition, the bill creates a category of space passenger that anticipates government astronauts joining private researchers or others on private vessels in flight to space and back. With the U.S. having essentially shut down the Shuttle program, astronauts currently are ferried to the Space Station, for instance, on foreign rockets. That could change as more privately owned rocket companies enter the marketplace.”
Also, famously, the bill allows asteroid miners to retain ownership of the resources they extract from asteroids, a crucial provision for jumpstart what many people will be a trillion dollar business. Companies such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries contemplate mining asteroids for materials that will then be used for industries in outer space, eliminating the need to launch them from Earth.
The first commercial space bill was passed in the 1980s, during President Ronald Reagan’s administration, something that Cruz was careful to point out. “This week, the United States Congress carried President Reagan’s torch forward by passing this legislation. Commercial space exploration presents important new opportunities for us all. Our nation must continue to provide a framework in which the American people can innovate and create private commercial, scientific, and cultural enterprises that can extend our reach throughout the cosmos.”
Not coincidentally, the bill, once it is signed into law, will have considerable benefit for Texas, which is becoming a venue for commercial space operations just as it has been for NASA, with the Johnson Spaceflight Center south of Houston. Companies such as XCOR, Blue Origin, and SpaceX operate in the Lone Star State, with the latter building its own launch facility near Brownsville.