Cruz’s Space Frontier Act reintroduced; extends ISS to 2030


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This week a bi-partisan group of senators reintroduced Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) Space Frontier Act.

The bill closely follows last year’s version of the Space Frontier Act, which Cruz and then-Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) shepherded through the Senate. Most of the bill covers efforts to reform commercial launch and remote sensing regulations in parallel with rulemaking activities currently underway by the Commerce and Transportation Departments. The bill also authorizes an extension of the International Space Station from 2024 to 2030 and elevates the Office of Space Commerce within the Commerce Department to the Bureau of Space Commerce.

They have changed one item that caused the House to reject the bill last year, one that exempted space-related bureaucracies from “the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which sets requirements for public meetings by such committees.” I suspect the exemption was an attempt to keep the job simple for these bureaucracies. At the same time, allowing them to function in the dark as they make regulations is not good either.

I have read through the bill [pdf], and my impression is that it really won’t change much. That it mandates the extension of ISS to 2030 however is important, as this means this big government project will continue to be funded, whether or not it makes sense to do so. Many in the space station private sector have said that it would be better that ISS was gone so that their efforts would not have to compete with it. I’m not sure this is true, however. All NASA really has to do to make ISS more commercially viable is to allow more commercial activities on it, including allowing private companies to attach their own modules that they own and control. Should NASA do this, the objections of the private space station community would become moot.

On a positive note, forcing NASA to continue to support ISS — which does have great value — will make it harder for NASA to find money for its Lunar Gateway boondoggle, a project that to my mind has far less obvious value, especially because it will cost far more than ISS to build and operate.

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3 comments

  • Wodun

    Companies should just launch their own stations. A seal of approval would be good for marketing but it would also be a great hindrance, as we have seen with commercial crew.

    NASA is a government agency and shouldn’t be involved in “commerce” as it will distort all of the market signals.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “Many in the space station private sector have said that it would be better that ISS was gone so that their efforts would not have to compete with it.

    I commented on a similar topic, last week.
    https://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/russia-offers-to-take-over-iss-if-us-exits/#comment-1065452

    I linked the following essay, which advocates for an end to ISS in order for private commercial space stations to flourish, especially since the current countries that make up the international part of ISS would need to rent or lease space on those commercial space stations if they were to make up for the loss of ISS.
    https://spacenews.com/op-ed-commercializing-space-before-a-commercial-leo-market-can-flourish-the-iss-must-be-retired/

    Although I believe that commercial space stations, independent of ISS, can survive with ISS still in place, I am not so certain about their survival if the Russians add their proposed new modules, modules that would be based on their Science-Power Module (SPM) and perhaps priced on government subsidies. This SPM type of science module would be similar to the commercial modules that Robert suggests: “All NASA really has to do to make ISS more commercially viable [and make the objections of the private space station community become moot] is to allow more commercial activities on it, including allowing private companies to attach their own modules that they own and control.

    Robert’s suggestion would certainly help, and would help private space companies compete with the Russian proposal. Undoubtedly private space companies would do well under this type of business model, as can be seen with the success of NanoRacks, which does not even have its own module.

    What I am not so sure about is whether smaller independent commercial space stations (independent of ISS) would survive so that they would be available when ISS is finally retired in 2030 (or later).

    If they don’t compete well with ISS, then the commercial manned programs by Boeing and SpaceX may be hampered, as NASA would remain their main or sole customer through 2030. We have seen, over the past half century, just how poorly commercial space has fared under the regime of government-run space programs.

    If they do compete well with ISS, the Boeing and SpaceX will have enough other business that Sierra Nevada could win the next round of NASA’s commercial crew contracts, allowing them to develop their manned Dream Chaser, similar to the way they did with the Commercial Resupply Services contract, that has them to developing their cargo version of Dream Chaser. Thus, before 2030 we could have three commercial manned space transportation companies serving ISS and several other independent commercial space stations, giving us a strong commercial manned space industry.

    What makes me optimistic for these independent commercial space stations is that a large number of countries that are not part of the ISS have started their own space programs and are potential customers for these new orbital stations.

    The decisions made in the ’00 decade helped to develop our current commercial space companies, and the decisions made in the next couple of years will determine how well these and other companies fare in the coming decade or two. Decisions that were made during the time of Apollo and the early years of the Space Shuttle resulted in preventing any hope of a commercial space industry. In the early 1980s, famous rocket engineer Robert Truax had wanted to create a commercial rocket company, but the Space Shuttle was to replace all other American rockets, so Truax could not find any backers for his plan. American space remained solely in the purview of government (NASA and the Air Force) for almost another third of a century.

    This effort by Cruz will keep NASA in the manned space station business. I hope that the decisions made in the next couple of years do not, once again, overly hamper the commercial space industry.

  • Jim

    ICYMI I’ve found a very interesting article on an asteroid spinning so fast it’s losing its surface dust.

    https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2019/hubble-watches-spun-up-asteroid-coming-apart/

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