WASHINGTON — An industry group says it is opposed to a White House proposal for regulating novel space activities, arguing it could be burdensome and confusing for companies and agencies.
The Nov. 27 letter from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) to the chairs and ranking members of the House Science Committee and Senate Commerce Committee, obtained by SpaceNews, comes as the House committee prepares to resume consideration of a bill with an alternative approach to what is often called mission authorization.
The proposal from the White House’s National Space Council, published Nov. 15, would split responsibilities for commercial space activities not currently regulated by other agencies between the Departments of Commerce and Transportation. The Transportation Department, through the Federal Aviation Administration, would regulate human spaceflight activities beyond launch and reentry as well as transportation of items through space or to the lunar surface. The Commerce Department, through the Office of Space Commerce, would handle other uncrewed spacecraft not regulated by the FAA, such as satellite servicing and debris removal.
“We oppose the recently released National Space Council (NSPC) proposal on the topic in its current form, which fails to consider the points that CSF and many other stakeholders raised during the NSPC listening sessions last year,” CSF said in its letter to Congress.
The organization raised several concerns, including how responsibilities would be split between the two departments and the potential for “duplicative and conflicting” requirements between Commerce and Transportation. “For some operations, it is unclear which agency would hold the authority to issue a relevant license, or if multiple licenses would be needed,” it stated.
The group is concerned about giving additional responsibilities to the FAA’s commercial space transportation office without also significantly increasing its budget, noting that the office is struggling to keep up with its current launch and reentry licensing. At an October hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee, industry officials recommended increasing that office’s budget to handle launch licensing work, without any discussion of it taking on additional responsibilities.
CSF was also worried that the proposed mission authorization system could disrupt plans by NASA to shift from the International Space Station to commercial stations by the end of the decade. “Introducing a bifurcated and unclear regulatory regime for commercial space stations,” the letter stated, “could risk U.S. leadership in low-Earth orbit.”
The organization said it supported proposals that would make the Office of Space Commerce the sole agency for providing mission authorization, backing a light-touch approach that included “presumption of authorization, supervision via self-certification, firm timelines for approval, and narrowly-defined and clear evaluation criteria.”
That appears similar to what the Republican leadership of the House Science Committee offered in its Commercial Space Act of 2023, introduced Nov. 2. That bill would create a “certification” process for novel space activities led by the Office of Space Commerce, among other topics.
The committee held a markup session for the bill Nov. 15, which started less than an hour after the White House released its own mission authorization proposal. Democratic members of the committee said they opposed the bill, arguing they should wait to review the National Space Council proposal.
Committee chairman Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) recessed the hearing before a final vote, noting conflicts with other votes on the House floor “and the nature of additional information that has become available to us.” The markup would resume some time after the Thanksgiving break, he said.
The committee announced Nov. 28 that the markup of the commercial space bill and a separate, unrelated bill will resume Nov. 29 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern with final votes on both bills.