The Senate Commerce Committee approved a measure on Wednesday that would allow space companies to fly their reusable launch vehicles under experimental permits even after the Federal Aviation Administration issues launch license.
Currently, the experimental permit is superseded by launch license, making it more difficult to use the vehicle to test modifications later on.
“The bill would allow a commercial space launch company to take a licensed vehicle out of commercial service and use it as an experimental platform for safety and performance improvements when needed, and allow one or more vehicles of the same design to be used for test flights under a permit, while other vehicles of the same design are used in commercial operations under a license,” according to a press release from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a co-sponsor of the measure.
The Senate measure is similar to one that Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) introduced in the House. McCarthy’s bill has been sitting before the Subcommittee on Space for four months.
“Today’s vote reaffirms that encouraging innovation is key to America achieving its potential in the 21st century,” said Senator Rubio. “Innovative industries like commercial spaceflight are advancing rapidly, and we can’t allow outdated laws to stifle progress. Unfortunately that’s exactly what’s happening.
“These laws did not anticipate what commercial companies are now doing with vehicle testing and commercial spaceflights, and therefore have caused progress to slow,” added Rubio. “That’s why we need this bill to help update and streamline federal laws so they are more in line with today’s commercial spaceflight operations and can allow for this cutting edge industry to thrive. Removing outdated, burdensome federal laws will not only allow for further advancement in commercial spaceflights, but also encourage more innovation, job creation, and economic growth.”
“This legislation addresses a technical issue that will help the commercial spaceflight industry develop and deploy reusable space vehicles quickly and safely,” said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. “We are grateful for the leadership of Senator Rubio in sponsoring this important bill.”