U.S. Senate Passes Historic Legislation Promoting Commercial Space Exploration

November 12, 2015 – Earlier this week, members of the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the bi-partisan U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA, or H.R. 2262 as amended), which will enhance existing efforts to develop the commercial space industry by creating more stable and predictable regulatory conditions and establish well-defined ground rules for property rights beyond Earth. The Act also extends the operation of the International Space Station (ISS) through 2024, giving the ISS and NASA an extended amount of mission certainty.

H.R. 2262 provides the first ever codification of rights under United States law for companies to engage in exploration for, and the extraction and ownership of, space resources including water and minerals from the moon and other celestial bodies. The legislation encourages growth of the commercial space industry and protects and supports U.S. interests as the commercial space sector continues to expand.

“This bill provides the boost America’s private space partners need as they lead the world into the future,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. “It reflects years of committee hearing and input from industry partners, education groups, and grassroots citizen advocates. This bill will keep America at the forefront of aerospace technology, create jobs, reduce red tape, promote safety, and inspire the next generation of explorers.”

The Act was introduced by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and has a bipartisan group of co-sponsors including Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), Senator John Thune (R-SD), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Tom Udall (D-NM).

“Aerospace plays a major role in Colorado’s economy, sustaining thousands of jobs and ensuring that our state is on the cutting edge of technological development,” Sen. Gardner said. “By providing commonsense ground rules for the commercial development of space and by protecting this growing sector from burdensome federal regulation, this Act ensures that the commercial space sector will be able to thrive in Colorado.”

H.R. 2262 represents one of the most significant modernizations of commercial space policy and regulatory legislation since the original Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA) was enacted in 1984. CSLA was last updated in 2004, creating a regulatory framework for commercial human spaceflight that resulted in a wave of investment, innovation, jobs and economic growth for the U.S. This new legislation sets the stage for the continued growth and expansion of the space transportation industry, while promoting investments in new commercial space applications that will benefit all Americans.

Planetary Resources, Moon Express, Bigelow Aerospace and many other companies are applauding the Senate for supporting the creation of a stable and predictable environment for private sector development while encouraging investments into the bold new field of outer space resource exploration and utilization.

Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Planetary Resources, Inc. said, “Many years from now, we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multi-planetary species. This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and it will foster the sustained development of space.”

The bill consolidates language from the House-passed “Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act of 2015 or SPACE Act” and builds on key elements in S. 1297 that was approved by the Commerce Committee earlier this year and passed by the Senate on August 4, 2015. The House first passed H.R. 2262 in May with a broad bipartisan majority as well as support from space community stakeholders. The bill now heads back to the House for final approval.

“I’m pleased that the Senate has advanced H.R. 2262 to give our commercial space pioneers the certainty they need to expand our technology capabilities and explore the next frontier,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “I plan to schedule this bill for final approval as early as possible and look forward to the President signing this important bill into law.”

Key provisions include the following:

  • Extends the Operation of the International Space Station

    Provides a four-year extension of the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 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 Continued Development and Growth of the Commercial Space Sector

    Provides an extension of the regulatory learning period through September 30, 2023 so that the commercial space sector can continue to mature and innovate before the Department of Transportation transitions to a regulatory approach. The current learning period expires on March 31, 2016.

  • Extends Indemnification for Commercial Launches

    Extends through September 30, 2025 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.

  • Identifies Appropriate Oversight for the Commercial Development of Space

    Directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy, in consultation with the Department of Transportation, 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 on industry, promote the U.S. commercial space sector, and meet U.S. obligations under international treaties.

  • Space Resource Exploration and Utilization (Asteroid Mining)

    Establishes a legal right to resources a U.S. citizen may recover in space consistent with current law and international obligations of the United States. Directs the President to facilitate and promote the space resource exploration and recovery.