House Passes Six Month Extension of "Learning Period" for Commercial Human Spaceflight

House Passes Six Month Extension of "Learning Period" for Commercial Human Spaceflight

Today the House passed a bill that includes a provision extending the “learning period” during which the FAA cannot issue new regulations for commercial human spaceflight for six months.  The current prohibition on new government regulations expires on Wednesday.

In 2004, Congress passed the Commercial Space Launch Act amendments that created certain regulations for the commercial human spaceflight industry, but directed the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) not to issue new regulations governing the safety of passengers for 8 years.  The law established an “informed consent” regime where commercial human spaceflight providers had to inform potential passengers of the risks, but it was up to the passenger to decide whether or not to take them.  The idea was that the government should have a light hand of regulation over the nascent commercial human spaceflight business until enough experience was gained to determine whether more was needed.

The 8 years passed without a single commercial human spaceflight, so the prohibition on new regulations — called a “moratorium” or a “learning period” — was extended.  At the moment, it will expire on September 30.  Whether or not to extend it again is a matter of contention between FAA/AST and its Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC). 

So far, Congress has shown willingness to extend it; the question is only for how long.  A House bill, H.R. 2262, would extend the learning period until 2025.  The Senate bill, S. 1297, would extend it to 2020.  

Both bills address a range of commercial space issues and while the two sides of Capitol Hill are trying to reach agreement, the bill that passed today, H.R. 3614, would provide a 6-month extension for the learning period (among a number of non-space related provisions).   That bill, the Airport and Airway Extension Act, was introduced on Friday and passed the House today under suspension of the rules.  No hearings or markups were held on that bill.

Sec. 102(e) of the bill extends the relevant section of the U.S. Code,  51 U.S.C. 50905(c)(3), by striking October 1, 2015 and inserting April 1, 2016.  The brief extension allows negotiators on H.R. 2262 and S. 1297 some breathing room to reach agreement.

There does not appear to be a Senate counterpart to the bill, but it is certainly
possible for Congress to pass a bill like this in two days if there is
no strong opposition.

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