Nov 11 2015

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This is pretty significant

Senate Passes Compromise Commercial Space Bill.

Here are the major provisions (quoted word-for-word from the article), and my impressions:

Provision Analysis/Opinion
Formally extends operation of the International Space Station 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. This is a good thing, and basically gives us 8 years to develop commercial orbital platforms — if it takes longer, then I suppose we can just extend this deadline. If I were NASA, I’d start looking now for commercial ventures that may be willing to buy outright or lease the ISS by the end of 2024.
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. This is HUGE — keeping regulation to a minimum while commercial launch capability is developed. If this “learning period” ever expires (which I would be very much against), expect a consolidation within the industry. Big companies would purchase smaller launch companies, and eventually (and pretty quickly) we’d be back down to one or two “too-big-to-fail-and-we-can’t-lose-them-anyway-because-then-we’d-have-nothing-left” crony capitalism companies that would be as dependent on government and regulators as they would be on customers.
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. Another good thing, pretty much hand-in-hand with the “learning period” point above. However, where I hope the “learning period” never ends to keep regulations to a minimum, I think eventually launch companies (once they’ve developed a mature launch capability) should be held responsible for damages from launch failure. Having “skin in the game” is the only way that the market can force safety and reliability improvements.
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. As I’ve said multiple times in the past, we should ditch the Outer Space treaty and instead treat Space and orbital bodies as an extension of Maritime law. That would be my recommendation to the OSTP
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. I can’t find the details to this, but it certainly sounds promising, and in line with my thoughts above on the Outer Space Treaty.
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. Ugh…the crony-capitalism rocket, where GOPe unites with Democrats to keep a big project with no real mission going. Hurry up, Falcon Heavy and BFR — you can’t get here quick enough!!

Related article:
Deep Space Industries Applauds Legislative Passage Of U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitive Act Of 2015

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/11/11/this-is-pretty-significant/

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