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.