The bill provides for long-term extensions of the “learning period” that places limits on the Federal Aviation Administration’s ability to regulate the safety of spaceflight participants. It also limits government indemnification of third-party damages for commercial launches that exceed a level against which the launching company must be insured.
The bill grants U.S. companies rights to resources they extract in space from asteroids, the moon, and other bodies. It does not specify what recourse a company would have if someone interfered with its resource mining rights. The bill does not cover property rights on asteroids or other bodies.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who sponsored the original bill, said it would allow scientists to explore, experiment, and learn about space without being constrained by premature regulations. The bill encourages the private sector to launch rockets.
The commercial space industry predicted that the passage of the bill would encourage creativity and innovation. The ownership of resources recovered from space is expected to encourage capital markets to get involved in space resource utilization. NASA says the bill’s passage is an important milestone.
The Senate approved the bill through unanimous consent on November 10. The version that was passed is a compromise version of the original House bill and one that was passed by the Senate in August. The bill will now go to President Obama to be signed.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, ranking member of the full House Science Committee, and Donna Edwards, ranking member of the space subcommittee, opposed the bill. They argued against several provisions, including one adding participants in spaceflight to cross-waivers of liability that are currently required between launch service providers and their customers. They believe the bill will harm American taxpayers and the long-term interests of the commercial space industry.