Compromise Commercial Space Bill Passes House — Next Stop, the President

Compromise Commercial Space Bill Passes House — Next Stop, the President

UPDATE, November 25, 2015:  The President signed the bill into law today.

ORIGINAL STORY, November 16, 2015: The compromise version of new commercial space legislation passed the House this evening, clearing the measure for the President.  The bill, H.R. 2262, covers a broad range of commercial space policy issues from third party indemnification to asteroid mining.

The compromise bill, which retains the House number following negotiations on House- and Senate-passed versions of the bill, includes the following provisions:

  • Formally extends operation of the International Space Station from 2020 through 2024.  President Obama announced last year that
    he was extending it until then, but this will make it law.  Canada and
    Russia have agreed with the extension; Japan and Europe have not
    publicly endorsed the extension yet.
  • Extends the “learning period” for commercial human spaceflight
    through September 30, 2023.  Under current law, the prohibition on the
    FAA promulgating new regulations for the commercial human spaceflight
    business expires on March 31, 2016.
  • Extends third party indemnification for launch services
    companies through September 30, 2025.  Under current law, the authority
    for the FAA to indemnify commercial space launch companies from certain
    amounts of claims from the uninvolved public in the event of a launch
    accident expires on December 31, 2016.
  • Directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
    (OSTP) to assess and recommend approaches for oversight of commercial
    non-governmental activities in space.  The 1967 Outer Space Treaty
    requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the
    activities of their non-governmental entities.
  • Establishes a legal right to resources U.S. citizens obtain from
    asteroids consistent with current law and international obligations. 
    Directs the President to facilitate and promote space resource
    exploration and recovery.
  • Provides a use policy for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).  SLS
    may be used for missions to extend human presence beyond low Earth
    orbit (LEO), for other payloads that can benefit from its unique
    capabilities, for government or educational payloads consistent with
    NASA’s mission to explore beyond LEO, and for “compelling circumstances”
    as determined by the NASA Administrator.

The original version of HR. 2262 passed the House in May.  The Senate version, which was quite different, passed in August.  The two chambers have been working out their differences ever since.  This final version passed the Senate last week.

The House version combined four separate pieces of legislation that cleared the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee in May.  It was collectively named the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act when it passed the House.  The Senate bill, S. 1297, was more narrowly cast in some respects, although it included a provision extending operations of the International Space Station until at least 2024.

The bill passed the House today by voice vote under suspension of the rules and now goes to the President for signature.

The lead sponsor of the House version is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) whose district includes the Mojave Air & Space Port.  He said the bill “ensures America remains the leader in space exploration and innovation in the 21st century.”   House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Space Subcommittee chairman Brian Babin (R-TX) echoed those sentiments.

Among the organizations applauding passage of the bill are the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) and Deep Space Industries (DSI).  CSF called the bill “one of the most significant modernizations of commercial space policy and regulatory legislation” since the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA).  DSI, one of two entrepreneurial companies seeking to clarify rights to resources mined from asteroids, also praised passage of the bill.  DSI Chair Rick Tumlinson said it “builds on our national space legacy and will help enable the rapid and sustainable growth of America’s space economy.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who led efforts to obtain Senate approval of the compromise last week, today called it “a new era for our commercial ventures in space, which will likely include the development of new drugs, the possibility of mining asteroids and an explosion of new technology as we advance our outreach in space.”

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