The House Science Committee postpones a vote on the commercial space bill

The House Science Committee postpones a vote on the commercial space bill

HAMBURG, Germany — The House Science Committee postponed a vote on a commercial space bill until after Thanksgiving amid opposition from Democrats on the committee over its provisions.

The committee met on November 15 to develop the Commercial Space Act of 2023 and another bill. At the end of the coding period, which lasted more than three and a half hours including a recess, Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) said the committee would delay a vote to advance both bills until after the Thanksgiving holiday because of votes on both bills. The floor of the House of Representatives and “the nature of the additional information that has become available to us.”

The latest comment appears to be a reference to a legislative proposal released by the White House’s National Space Council less than an hour ahead of schedule on the concept of mission authorization for new space activities. This proposal would create a system where both the Department of Commerce and the Department of Transportation would oversee today’s unregulated activities, based on the type of activity.

The House bill, introduced by Lucas and Space Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) on November 2, would create its own mission authorization system at the Commerce Department. It would also direct Commerce to hand over responsibility for the civilian space traffic coordination system to a consortium led by an academic or non-profit organization, rather than keeping it within the Office of Space Commerce as currently planned.

In his opening remarks, Lucas said he was aware of the new White House proposal but had reservations about it. “I fear that these proposals will simply go in the wrong direction and harm rather than support the American space industry,” he said.

He said the legislative proposal was an “unnecessary expansion of government power” through a new series of licenses and regulations, rather than a “one-stop-shop” in trade. He also criticized the proposal for not extending the “learning period” that limits the FAA’s ability to regulate the safety of participants in commercial human spaceflight. This learning period is scheduled to end at the end of the year.

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), said the committee should wait to review the White House’s proposal before introducing the current bill. “The Space Council proposal may or may not be the way we want to move forward,” she said. “I think it would be a mistake to ignore their work.”

She said later in the markup that she also had issues with the House bill’s provisions. She said the bill’s certification process would limit interagency reviews of licensing applications, including national security issues. She also opposed the bill’s apparent efforts to “undo” the Commerce Department’s work on space traffic coordination and limit the use of non-binding agreements on standards and codes of conduct in space.

The committee adopted several amendments that did not change the main elements of the draft law, but in some cases added new provisions. This included reports on space solar power, space traffic coordination, and a “Congressional Sense” section calling on the FAA and the Department of Defense to create a single operation to support commercial launches at federal ranges.

The committee also passed an amendment that would create a more streamlined launch authorization process at the FAA. However, Lofgren expressed reservations about the amendment, including the lack of comments from the FAA on the proposal and concerns that fees collected for expedited review may not remain within the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space.

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