The House Science, Space and Technology Committee approved a bill by voice vote June 8 that would create a “one-stop shop” in the Commerce Department to authorize private-sector activity in space.
Those activities are now spread across three 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), the committee chairman, who introduced the bill a day earlier with Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), who chairs the committee’s space panel, and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.).
Bridenstine said the bill calls for the Commerce Department’s Office of Space Commerce to “perform a simple review of proposed operations to check that they are not violating the United States’ obligations under the Outer Space Treaty. This gives the executive branch the tool it claims it needs while instituting a clear, known, transparent and timely process for American industry to prosper.”
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the committee’s ranking member, opposed the bill, saying it would make more sense to house such regulatory authority in the Transportation Department, which has more space expertise than the Commerce Department. She said the bill has little chance of becoming law in its current form.
“The office that this bill assigns these responsibilities to has a total of three full-time employees right now,” Johnson said. “This makes no sense to me, and it makes no sense to many in the stakeholder community.”
The committee approved a Bridenstine amendment that calls for the Government Accountability Office to study the impact of elevating the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) by moving it back to the Transportation Department and giving it an assistant secretary leader. AST regulates commercial space launches.
The bill also contains language aimed at streamlining the regulation of commercial space-based remote sensing. Johnson said the measure gives too much power to the commerce secretary and derails an interagency process that has traditionally evaluated national security issues.
The bill, the proposed American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017 (H.R. 2809), now heads to the full House for its consideration.