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Rubio-Sponsored Space Bill Approved By Senate

Aug 5, 2015 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. Last night, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved S. 1297, the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which was introduced by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and four other senators.‎ The legislation extends the operational use of the International Space Station (ISS) until 2024, a regulatory moratorium on commercial space activity through FY 2020, and ensures stability for the continued development and growth of the U.S. commercial space sector and other space initiatives.
“Throughout our entire economy, we need to eliminate unnecessary regulations that cost too much and make it harder for American innovators to create jobs,” Rubio said. “The reforms included here make it easier for our innovators to ‎return Americans to suborbital space and will help the American space industry continue pushing further into space than ever before. This is an important win for Florida’s space exploration community.”
Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) joined with Rubio to introduce the bill earlier this year. Building upon the Commercial Space Launch Act that was first passed by Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the bipartisan U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act reflects the needs of a changing and growing industry and aims to encourage the competitiveness of the U.S. commercial space industry.
Key components of the legislation:

  • Extending the Operation and Utilization of the International Space Station (ISS): Provides a four-year extension of the ISS into 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 the Continued Development and Growth of the Commercial Space Sector: Provides a five-year extension of the regulatory learning period through 2020 so that the commercial space sector can continue to mature and innovate, experiment and indicate readiness before the Department of Transportation transitions to a regulatory approach. The current learning period expires on September 30, 2015.
  • Extending the Federal Indemnification of Commercial Launches Until 2020: Extends 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. The current indemnification authorities terminate on December 31, 2016.
  • Defines “Government Astronaut”: Establishes “Government Astronaut” as a separate class of passengers from crew and space flight participants for government employees transporting to space on commercial vehicles to reflect advances in commercial space providers’ role in NASA crewed launches planned within the window of the bill.
  • Identifies Appropriate Oversight for the Commercial Development of Space: Asks the Office of Science and Technology Policy, in consultation with the 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, promote the U.S. commercial space sector, and meet U.S. obligations under international treaties.
  • Consolidates FAA Launch Licensure: Two different offices at FAA are currently involved in the licensing and permitting process for hybrid rocket systems that use a carrier aircraft (non-launch) to carry the suborbital vehicle (for launch) to a certain altitude where it will be released. This bill asks for a report to Congress on approaches for streamlining the process for licenses and permits for such innovative launch vehicles.

A PDF of the bill is available here.