Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address:

Senate Passes Compromise Commercial Space Bill - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Nov-2015
Updated: 11-Nov-2015 02:15 PM

UPDATED November 11, with link to text of bill.

ORIGINAL STORY, November 10, 2015: The Senate just passed the compromise version of commercial space legislation that merges Senate- and House-passed bills affecting a broad range of commercial space activities from space launch to mining asteroids.   The bill passed by unanimous consent without debate.

The final version of the bill keeps the House bill number (H.R. 2262). A Senate Commerce Committee press release identified the key provisions:

  • Formally extends operation of the International Space Stati on from 2020 through 2024.  President Obama announced last year that he was extending it until then, but this will make it law.  Canada and Russia have agreed with the extension; Japan and Europe have not publicly endorsed the extension yet.
  • Extends the "learning period" for commercial human spaceflight through September 30, 2023.  Under current law, the prohibition on the FAA promulgating new regulations for the commercial human spaceflight business expires on March 31, 2016.
  • Extends third party indemnification for launch services companies through September 30, 2025.  Under current law, the authority for the FAA to indemnify commercial space launch companies from certain amounts of claims from the uninvolved public in the event of a launch accident expires on December 31, 2016.
  • Directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to assess and recommend approaches for oversight of commercial non-governmental activities in space.  The 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the activities of their non-governmental entities.
  • Establishes a legal right to resources U.S. citizens obtain from asteroids consistent with current law and international obligations.  Directs the President to facilitate and promote space resource exploration and recovery.
  • Provides a use policy for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS).  SLS may be used for missions to extend human presence beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), for other payloads that can benefit from its unique capabilities, for government or educational payloads consistent with NASA's mission to explore beyond LEO, and for "compelling circumstances" as determined by the NASA Administrator.

The top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee and its space subcommittee -- John Thune (R-SD), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Gary Peters (D-MI) -- all praised passage of the bill.  Thune noted the efforts of House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) as being "critical" to the bill's passage.

Smith said in a statement that the bill "reflect years of committee hearings and input from industry partners, education groups, and grassroots citizien advocates."  He added that he looks forward to a House vote "with strong bipartisan support."

Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources praised the Senate action, saying it provides a "pro-growth environment for the development of the commercial space industry. "  It singled out Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representatives Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Bill Posey (R-FL), and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) for their "unwavering" support.  Planetary Resources is headquartered in Redmond, WA.

Note:  An earlier version of this article said that existing third party liability indemnification expires on September 30, 2016, but it is December 31, 2016.


User Comments



SpacePolicyOnline.com has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.