The House on Monday at press time was set to vote on a compromise commercial space launch bill that, if approved, would arrive on President Barack Obama’s desk for possible signature into law.
The bill was approved by the Senate last week and is the product of negotiations between the two chambers over the last several months that began with the House passing H.R. 2262, also known as the SPACE bill of 2015, in May. The bill builds on key elements in S. 1278 that the Senate Commerce Committee approved earlier this year and passed the Senate on Aug. 4.
The bill directs the Transportation Secretary to evaluate the methodology used to calculate the maximum probable loss and, if necessary, develop a plan to update that methodology to ensure that the federal government is not exposed to greater costs than intended and that launch companies are not required to purchase more insurance coverage than necessary. The bill also extends indemnification for commercial launches from Dec. 31, 2016, to Sept. 30, 2025.
Charles Miller, president of NexGen Space LLC and former NASA senior adviser for commercial space, said Monday he was “shocked” by the proposal to extend launch indemnification through 2025 as previous legislative efforts could only muster one- or two-year extensions.
“Every other country basically indemnifies, but the best we could get through is a year or two at most,” Miller told Defense Daily. “This year they did much better.”
The bill provides a four-year extension of the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2024 by directing the NASA administrator to take all necessary steps to ensure ISS remains a viable and productive facility capable of utilization, according to a statement from House Science Committee.
The bill also provides an extension of the regulatory learning period through Sept. 30, 2023, so that the commercial space sector can continue to mature and innovate before the Transportation Department transitions to a regulatory approach. The current learning period expires on March 31, 2016. Commercial space advocate and industry consultant Rand Simberg said on Twitter Monday he wished the learning period had been extended indefinitely, but this “buys time.”
The bill identifies oversight for the commercial development of space. It directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in consultation with other stakeholders, to assess and recommend approaches for oversight of commercial non-governmental activities conducted in space. The bill also establishes a legal right to resources a United States citizen may recover in space consistent with current law and international U.S. obligations.
Miller, overall, was thrilled with the bill, calling it a big deal that the most significant piece of space legislation to come out of Congress this year is based on commercial space.
“I’ve been watching this for 20 years and the fact we have such a large extension on both the indemnification and the learning period was shocking and very positive,” Miller said. “The fact that Congress has advanced national policy on space property rights was also extremely positive and a great surprise for the future of commercial space.”
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) on Thursday issued a statement applauding Senate passage of the bill.