The National Space Society vision is people living and working in space

16 June 1998
Letter delivered to Senate offices as HR1702 (Commercial Space Act of 1997) was reported out of committee. The letter contains an overview of the Act, in preparation for consideration by the full Senate.

Dear Senator,

It seems every day that American industry announces a new technological breakthrough. To keep pace with these rapid developments, federal laws and regulations need to be constantly updated. This is especially true for the aerospace industry, and the reason behind the Commercial Space Act (H.R. 1702).

The companion bill has passed the House and the legislation is now awaiting consideration by the full Senate. The bipartisan bill contains a series of amendments to modernize the Launch Services Purchase Act of 1990 and the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992. It also has provisions to promote the commercial development of the International Space Station, privatize the Space Shuttle, and promote the commercial purchase of science data. Specifically, the legislation:

  • Establishes a regulatory framework to license reusable launch vehicles (RLVs), such as the X-33 and X-34, which are now in development by NASA and industry. Flight tests of these spacecraft are scheduled in 1999 and cannot proceed unless this legislation is enacted. The bill is also necessary to support a new generation of hybrid launch vehicles under development by private industry;
  • Requires NASA to generate a report on how it plans to commercialize the International Space Station. The Agency must identify the commercial opportunities -- including potential costs savings and revenue -- for the operation, use, servicing, and augmentation of the station, and list those opportunities NASA plans to make available to commercial providers. NASA also is required to submit to Congress an independent market study that examines the potential industry interest in providing commercial goods and services for the ISS;
  • Facilitates the licensing of remote sensing technology to prevent bureaucratic delay and to ensure America remains competitive in the global marketplace. Among its provisions, the Commerce Department would be directed to publish a list of requirements for applicants seeking a license to own and operate a remote sensing satellite. And the Department would be prohibited from seeking to enjoin a licensee from entering into a foreign agreement unless the Secretary first transmits a determination to the licensee that such participation is inconsistent with national security or international obligations;
  • Encourages the government to purchase space science data from private industry, as well as services and applications related to the processing of space data;
  • Reaffirms that the Global Positioning System (GPS) will be operated on a "continuous worldwide basis free of direct user fees" and urges the President to enter into international agreements to promote cooperation with foreign governments and international organizations to establish the GPS and its augmentations as an acceptable international standard;
  • Requires the federal government to purchase space transportation services from U.S. commercial providers (exceptions provided for science payloads and other circumstances), and plan missions, to the maximum extent practicable, to accommodate the space transportation capabilities of the U.S. commercial providers;
  • Requires NASA to complete a feasibility study on privatizing the Space Shuttle and identify, discuss, and, where possible, present options for resolving the major policy and legal issues that must be addressed to accomplish this goal, and;
  • Requires the Secretary of Defense to prepare a report on America's total potential launch capability (defense and civil sectors) through 2007, as well as determine the deficiency of resources, if any, and the level of funding needed to address them.
The Commercial Space Act is urgently needed to ensure our commercial space industry remains healthy and can successfully compete in international markets. The legislation removes outdated references in current law. It streamlines regulations, opens the door to new commercial opportunities, and will create a stable economic environment so American industry can flourish.

The National Space Society strongly urges your cosponsorship and support of its immediate consideration by the Senate. Delay is costing American jobs. Industry is having to test new launch vehicles in other countries because we do not have a licensing process in place. It is critical to act on the bill at the earliest possible date. The legislation has been carefully crafted to gain broad, bipartisan support. Its timely passage will fuel new high-tech jobs and enhance America's leadership in the commercial development of space.


Pat Dasch
Executive Director
The National Space Society

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