August 6, 2015 – The U.S. Senate, on Tuesday, unanimously approved S. 1297, the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, introduced by Commerce Committee Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee chairman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), full committee ranking member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee ranking member Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and subcommittee members Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). The legislation, which the full Commerce Committee approved by voice vote with an amendment on May 20, 2015, extends the operational use of the International Space Station (ISS) until 2024, a regulatory moratorium on commercial space activity through FY 2020, and ensures stability for the continued development and growth of the U.S. commercial space sector and other space initiatives.
“Today, the United States Senate carried President Reagan’s torch forward by passing the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act,” said Cruz. “This bipartisan legislation makes a commitment to supporting the continued development of a strong commercial space sector and recognizes that Texas has a major stake in space exploration. My legislation also provides NASA and the International Space Station with nearly a decade of mission certainty by extending the operation and utilization of the International Space Station until 2024. This certainty signifies that the men and women at Johnson Space Center will continue to play a vital role in the future of manned spaceflight.”
“This will help clear the way for the commercial space companies to grow and thrive on Florida’s Space Coast and across the nation,” said Nelson. “And that will help with our push to explore Mars while providing jobs and growing the economy closer to home.”
“The American commercial space industry is helping to advance NASA’s research and exploration goals in space while yielding tremendous economic benefits here on Earth,” said Peters. “I’m pleased that the Senate has approved this critical legislation that will create jobs, boost our economy, encourage research and inspire future generations to continue exploring space.”
“Throughout our entire economy, we need to eliminate unnecessary regulations that cost too much and make it harder for American innovators to create jobs,” Rubio said. “The reforms included here make it easier for our innovators to return Americans to suborbital space and will help the American space industry continue pushing further into space than ever before. This is an important win for Florida’s space exploration community.”
“The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act provides much-needed certainty to the commercial space sector and encourages the development of the space industry in Colorado and across the country,” said Gardner. “I was pleased to see my colleagues come together to approve this important legislation, and I’m hopeful that it will move quickly through the legislative process.”
Building upon the Commercial Space Launch Act that was first passed by Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the bipartisan U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act reflects the needs of a changing and growing industry and aims to encourage the competitiveness of the U.S. commercial space industry. Key components of the legislation:
Extending the Operation and Utilization of the International Space Station (ISS)
Provides a four-year extension of the ISS into 2024 by directing the NASA Administrator to take all necessary steps to ensure the ISS remains a viable and productive facility capable of utilization, including for scientific research and commercial applications.
Ensures Stability for the Continued Development and Growth of the Commercial Space Sector
Provides a five-year extension of the regulatory learning period through 2020 so that the commercial space sector can continue to mature and innovate, experiment and indicate readiness before the Department of Transportation transitions to a regulatory approach. The current learning period expires on September 30, 2015.
Extending the Federal Indemnification of Commercial Launches Until 2020
Extends a key risk sharing provision in current law critical to keeping a level playing field in the global market for U.S. commercial space enterprises. The current indemnification authorities terminate on December 31, 2016.
Defines “Government Astronaut”
Establishes “Government Astronaut” as a separate class of passengers from crew and space flight participants for government employees transporting to space on commercial vehicles to reflect advances in commercial space providers’ role in NASA crewed launches planned within the window of the bill.
Identifies Appropriate Oversight for the Commercial Development of Space
Asks the Office of Science and Technology Policy, in consultation with the Secretary of State, NASA and other relevant Federal agencies, to assess and recommend approaches for oversight of commercial non-governmental activities conducted in space that would prioritize safety, utilize existing authorities, minimize burdens, promote the U.S. commercial space sector, and meet U.S. obligations under international treaties.
Consolidates FAA Launch Licensure
Two different offices at FAA are currently involved in the licensing and permitting process for hybrid rocket systems that use a carrier aircraft (non-launch) to carry the suborbital vehicle (for launch) to a certain altitude where it will be released. This bill asks for a report to Congress on approaches for streamlining the process for licenses and permits for such innovative launch vehicles.
Full text of the bill is available here.