House and Senate Reach Agreement on Commercial Space Legislation
House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a compromise version of commercial space legislation that passed the House and Senate earlier this year.
Details of the compromise have not been made public, but the revised bill could be voted on soon. The Senate bill, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (S. 1297) passed in August. The House bill, Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act (H.R. 2262), passed in May.
The House and Senate versions have many differences, but Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), the new chair of the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, recently characterized them as minor during an appearance before the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC).
The Senate version of the bill would extend the U.S. commitment to the International Space Station until at least 2024. Current law -- the 2010 NASA Authorization Act -- says until at least 2020. The Obama Administration announced the extension to 2024 in January 2014, but Congress has not formally agreed. The House bill did not address this issue.
The House and Senate bills also vary on the length of time that the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation would be precluded from issuing additional regulations for commercial human spaceflight (the "learning period') and that it can continue to indemnify commercial space launch companies from third party claims if there is a launch accident. Under current law, the learning period expires on April 1, 2016 and the third-party indemnification authority ends on December 31, 2016.
The Senate version would extend the learning period and third-party liability to 2020. The House version would extend both to 2025.
Word is that the compromise bill will be voted on first in the Senate. The Senate has a very busy schedule ahead of it, for example dealing with legislation that passed the House today that would raise budget caps and the debt limit for two years, but comparatively non-controversial legislation like this can be brought up at any time. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) discussed the procedure that will be used to get the bill through the Senate, back to the House, and onto the President's desk during a floor speech on Wednesday that indicated he anticipates a Senate vote very soon.
Note: This article was updated with the reference and link to Sen. Nelson's floor speech.
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