Four House Commercial Space Bills Span Wide Range of Topics

Four House Commercial Space Bills Span Wide Range of Topics

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will mark up four bills on May 13, 2015 dealing with a broad range of commercial space activities.  Three of the bills have yet to be introduced, but obtained copies.  In total, they span everything from regulating commercial human spaceflight to third party indemnification to property rights for mining asteroids to expanding the role of NOAA’s Office of Space Commercialization.

The committee announced the markup and the titles of the bills late this afternoon.  Only one has a bill number because the others are yet to be introduced. The bills are:

  • H. R. ___, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act of 2015 (the SPACE Act)
  • H.R. 1508, the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015
  • H.R. ____, the Commercial Remote Sensing Act of 2015 and
  • H.R. ____, the Office of Space Commerce Act

According to the copies obtained by, the four bills have the following goals:

  • The SPACE Act will be introduced by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who represents a district including Edwards Air Force Base and the Mojave Air and Space Port, along with House SS&T chairman Rep, Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Space Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS). The broadly-based bill is aimed at updating the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA).  Among its provisions the bill would:
    • extend the so-called “learning period” during which the FAA is prohibited from issuing new regulations for commercial human spaceflight until 2023. That restriction currently expires on September 30 of this year.  It also allows industry to develop voluntary industry standards and requires a report from the Secretary of Transportation in 2021 on industry’s progress in that regard and an independent assessment of the readiness of industry and government to transition to a framework that “may include regulations.”
    • extend the government’s ability to indemnify commercial space launch companies from certain amounts of third party losses through 2023 (the current authority expires in December 2016).
    • require updating the methodology to establish the maximum probable loss used by the FAA to establish requirements for companies to obtain third party liability insurance.
    • add and define “government astronaut” as a type of personnel that may be aboard a commercial human spaceflight mission.
    • require a study by an independent contractor of frameworks for space traffic management.
    • make a “sense of Congress” statement that launch facilities developed, owned or operated by States should take proper measures to “secure their investments and the safety of third parties from potential damages….”   That language probably is in response to the damage caused by the failure of Orbital’s Antares rocket at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) facility at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in October 2014.  The MARS facility is owned by the State of Virginia rather than the Federal Government and although Orbital had purchased required insurance under its FAA license (and other insurance for company purposes), Virginia did not buy insurance to cover its potential losses.  Virginia’s two Senators led efforts to add $20 million to the FY2015 appropriations bill that funds NASA to cover those losses, but the Obama Administration is reluctant to release those funds.
  • H.R. 1508 was introduced by Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) on March 19, 2015 and establishes a legal framework to govern property rights for U.S. companies involved the exploration and utilization of asteroids.  The committee held a hearing on similar legislation last year.
  • The Commercial Remote Sensing Act of 2015 will be sponsored by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to require annual reports from the Secretary of Commerce on its activities related to issuing licenses to commercial remote sensing companies, and a separate report on statutory changes that may be needed to protect national security, protect the U.S. industrial base, and reflect the current state of the art of remote sensing technologies.
  • The Office of Space Commerce Act will be sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) to rename the Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commercialization as the Office of Space Commerce and amend its responsibilities, especially increasing its role in positioning, navigation and timing satellites (i.e. GPS).

The markup is at 2:00 pm ET on May 13, 2015.


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