Subcommittee Discusses Updating the Commercial Space Launch Act

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
Posted: Tuesday, February 4, 2014


(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space held a hearing, “Necessary Updates to the Commercial Space Launch Act” to examine the various changes in the commercial space launch industry and what, if any, accompanying changes are necessary to the Commercial Space Launch Act.   Testifying before the Subcommittee were Dr. George Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); Dr. Alicia Cackley, Director of Financial Markets and Community Investment at the Government Accountability Office (GAO); and Dr. Henry Hertzfeld, Research Professor of Space Policy and International Affairs, Elliot School of International Affairs, at The George Washington University.

The Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA) and associated amendments provide authority to FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) to license commercial space launches and spacecraft reentries, to license commercial spaceports, and to regulate those activities to protect the property and safety of the uninvolved public should an accident occur.   The Act and associated amendments also give FAA’s AST both a regulatory role and a commercial space launch promotional role.

Ranking Member of the Space Subcommittee, Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), said in her opening statement, “Looking back to when the Commercial Space Launch Act was passed in 1984, followed by the Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments in 1988, and the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act in 2004, it is fair to say that the commercial space industry has come a long way. Not only has it come a long way, but it’s growing and changing as companies and entrepreneurs continue to generate new ideas and technical concepts for potential commercial space transportation systems and related operations.  Mr. Chairman, this is the type of ingenuity and innovative spirit that defines our nation and our economic potential, and I want to see it succeed.”

Members and Witnesses discussed a number of questions including, shared-liability indemnification and how the Maximum Probable Loss (MPL) is calculated; the dual role FAA has as advocate and regulator of the commercial space industry and whether this causes a conflict of interest; how the investigation of a commercial space launch accident would be handled and what agencies would handle it; if the “informed consent” approach space operators currently use to inform participants of the risks of launch and reentry is adequate; and whether there are viable alternatives to the current shared-liability indemnification program such as shifting to an insurance pool approach that should be considered as Congress looks to the future of this industry.

Ms. Edwards said, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I want to fly as a passenger one day.  However, my enthusiasm is tempered by the recognition that there are number of questions about this growing industry that remain unanswered, and issues that need to be resolved. I raise them because they are questions of national policy and safety that deserve our due diligence and that help us, as Members of Congress, to fulfill our responsibilities to the American taxpayers…[T]he recently passed extension of the third-party liability and indemnification regime for three years means that we have the time for a thoughtful examination of these questions, and I look forward to our Subcommittee conducting future hearings to address them.” 

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