By Anne-Sophie Martin –
On November 2, 2023, a new Commercial Space Act has been introduced by the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairmen in order to promote and strengthen the commercial space sector in the United States. The Bill highlights four main points to enhance the sustainability of space activities, to reinforce the role of private entities and frame their activities with a clear application of Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty. It gives a clear role to the federal authority to regulate non-governmental space activities.
The Bill aims to make more effective the compliance of the United States with international treaty obligations and national security concerns. It clarifies the process through which the country complies with its obligations under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1969 Rescue and Return Agreement, the 1972 Liability Convention and the 1975 Registration Convention. It includes a simplified procedure for authorization and supervision certification of nongovernmental space activities which reduces the administrative workload for nongovernmental entities operating in space. It also encourages responsible behavior in the conduct of space activities as US entities applying for a certification have to now include and detail a space debris mitigation plan in the application form, including a way to prevent on-orbit break-ups, remove space objects at the end of their mission, and limit the number of debris released during normal operations in line with the recent Orbital Sustainability (ORBITS) Act adopted on 31 October 2023.
The Bill clarifies the competent regulatory authority and designates the Department of Commerce Office of Space Commerce (DOC/OSC) as the single authority responsible for the authorization and supervision certification process. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) remains the authority to regulate spectrum and telecommunication satellites; and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) retains responsibility for regulating launch and re-entry operations.
The Bill improves and enhances domestic Space Situational Awareness (SSA) through the creation of a consortium to provide SSA data, information and services. It also establishes a NASA institute to advance research in SSA.
The Bill encourages the development of the commercial space sector. To this end, it establishes a Private Space Activity Advisory Committee to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of the new certification process and to make recommendations on how the US can continue to develop and promote a strong and competitive private space sector by identifying the challenges that it faces. The Bill also increases transparency to launch and re-entry licensing and permitting by clarifying requirements related to international obligations. The Bill supports private sector growth and the deployment of space servicing, assembly and manufacturing. Lastly, it fosters US development of space nuclear power and propulsion technology as well as a regime for licensing the launch of spacecraft containing space nuclear systems.
To conclude, the Bill strengthens the transparency and the predictability of the US regulatory environment, which represents an important element for enhancing private sector development and encouraging innovation in this area. Furthermore, such legislation implements certain key aspects of the 2019 UNCOPUOS Guidelines on the Long Term Sustainability of Space Activities (LTS) in terms of authorization and supervision, as well as in the field of debris mitigation, thus contributing to a sustainable and ethical use of outer space.
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of For All Moonkind’s Institute on Space Law and Ethics.