Horn: “Getting Close” on NASA Authorization Bill, Commercial Space Legislation Must Wait

Horn: “Getting Close” on NASA Authorization Bill, Commercial Space Legislation Must Wait

The chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee’s Space Subcommittee, Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK), said today they are “getting close” to finalizing a draft of a new NASA authorization bill.  A Senate bill already has been approved by committee, but she declined to say whether her bill will be similar.  She also said legislation comparable to the Senate’s Space Frontier Act for commercial space issues will have to wait until after the NASA bill.

Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Oklahoma)

Horn was the keynote speaker at the International Institute of Space Law’s Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law today.  Asked about commercial space legislation, she explained that unlike the Senate, the House has jurisdictional issues over space matters that complicates legislating.

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee oversees the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Commerce (DOC), as well as NASA.  House SS&T historically has been responsible for legislation affecting commercial space activities at DOC and DOT such as the laws that created the regulatory structure for commercial remote sensing satellites at DOC and space launch and reentry at DOT.

Recently, however, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee has shown interest especially in issues concerning the integration of space launch and reentry into the National Airspace System.  Almost exactly a year ago, the incoming chairman of that committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio, scuttled the Senate-passed version of the Space Frontier Act when it came before the House for a vote because he felt the airspace issues had not been considered adequately.

Apparently the jurisdictional issues have not been resolved, so Horn is focused on a NASA reauthorization bill first.  She provided no details on what it will include, but said “we’re getting close” on a text.  She wants a “strong, bipartisan bill” in the House and is “eager” to work with the Senate on a broad-based bill that will “set NASA up for success.”

The former head of communications and government affairs for the Space Foundation, Horn is a self-described “space nerd” who spent much of her talk today emphasizing the importance of satellites in everyday life and the lack of public awareness of that fact. She mentioned that she is pushing her colleagues in Congress to recognize that space is a critical component of the nation’s infrastructure just like water or the electric grid.

In addition to House SS&T, she is a member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee and she is focused on “intersections” — among civil, commercial and national security space; between U.S. and international space; and between government and private sector space.

In particular, civil and commercial space are “on the verge of a new era” and the key is determining the balance between where government investments are needed and where the commercial sector is ready to make it on its own.  Accompanying that is the need for a legal and regulatory framework that sets “guardrails” for public safety without stifling innovation and encourages international cooperation.

Space situational awareness and space traffic management are among “the most critical questions.” Rules of the road are needed, with consequences for those who do not comply.  The United States needs to take the lead, facilitating international participation.

The answers are not obvious and it will take an “iterative process” to find them.

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