The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that would create a “one-stop shop” in the Commerce Department’s Office of Space Commerce to authorize private-sector space activity, including exploration and remote sensing.
The House passed the proposed American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act (H.R. 2809) by voice vote April 24. The bill now heads to the Senate for its consideration.
Federal oversight of private space activities is now spread across several agencies, creating a burdensome and legally uncertain environment that has hampered the ability of U.S. firms to receive government approval of payloads, said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which approved the bill in June.
The bill, which Smith introduced, would streamline the approval process and "give space exploration a booster rocket," he said.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the committee’s ranking member, criticized the legislation, saying it would make more sense to house the regulatory authority in the Transportation Department, which has more space expertise than the Commerce Department.
Johnson also expressed concern that the bill’s “ambiguity” could hamper NASA, whose use of commercial services might face new oversight by another agency. If NASA indeed faces such a requirement, it "could adversely impact its ability to carry out its challenging initiatives," she said.
She expressed hope that the bill will be changed before becoming law.