Sens. Cruz, Nelson & Markey Introduce Space Frontier Act

Sen. Ted Cruz

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ted Cruz PR) – U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, on Wednesday introduced the Space Frontier Act (S. 3277).

This commercial space bill builds upon the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act by streamlining and reforming the regulatory framework for commercial space launch and Earth observation operations, which is crucial to maintaining American leadership in space.

The bill also extends the operation and utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) through 2030 to ensure that the U.S. is getting the maximum return on American taxpayer investment to avoid creating a leadership vacuum in low Earth orbit.

“The U.S. commercial space industry is a growing and vibrant sector of the American economy that has yet to reach its full potential due to outdated regulations that haven’t kept pace with advances in technology,” Sen. Cruz, chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, said. “The Space Frontier Act supports the continued development of a robust commercial space sector, and extends our leadership in space by maximizing our utilization and operation of the International Space Station. I am grateful for the efforts of Senators Nelson and Markey on this issue, as well as the broad, bipartisan support we have for the commercial space industry and America’s leadership in space.”

“This bill will help drive even more launches and space activity – bolstering our nation’s space economy and jobs in Florida,” said Nelson.

“This bill is a great step forward in providing certainty and a firmer launchpad for our commercial space industry,” said Senator Edward J. Markey, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. “This industry is booming, and our legislation will help it achieve new heights and protect small businesses and the scientific research that benefits all Americans through innovation and discovery. Healthy and fair competition among commercial space businesses will help our space program flourish as we enter the next great Space Age. I thank Senator Cruz for his partnership on an important effort to invest in this next, great horizon.”

The full bill text may be viewed here. Highlights of the Space Frontier Act may be viewed below:

Sustains the Utilization of the International Space Station 

  • Supports full and complete utilization of the International Space Station through at least 2030.
  • Expresses support for maintaining a national lab to benefit the scientific community and promote commerce in space.

Modernizes Launch and Re-Entry Regulations

  • The Office of Commercial Space Transportation was previously located inside the Office of the Secretary at the Department of Transportation before being placed within the Federal Aviation Administration. The Space Frontier Act establishes an Assistant Secretary for Commercial Space Transportation within DoT, elevating the profile of commercial space issues within the Department.
  • Requires DoT to issue a rulemaking to overhaul existing regulations within 1 year, and directs that the revised regulatory framework be focused around clear, high-level performance requirements applicable to both reusable and expendable systems.
  • Encourages DoT to use its existing waiver and safety approval authorities to streamline the existing regulatory process while a more comprehensive regulatory overhaul is in work.

Overhauls Earth Observation Regulations

  • Since they were first created in the early 1990s, the regulations for Earth observation systems have failed to keep pace with a maturing industry. Applications frequently get stuck in an ineffective interagency consultation process which has led the Department of Commerce (DoC) to fail to meet its statutory requirement to act within 120 days on Earth observation satellite license applications.
  • The Space Frontier Act repeals the existing legal framework for Earth observation regulations and creates a new framework at DoC that focuses on managing risk to national security and preventing harmful interference to other space activities.
  • Provides a streamlined 90-day process for other agencies to review applications; non-responsiveness is treated as assent to the application, and non-concurrences must be signed by the head of the non-concurring agency or department.

  • envy

    Well I think that’s a good indication how low Trump’s chances for cutting funding for ISS by 2025 are.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The big question will be if the ISS partners decide to go along. They made it pretty clear when it was extended the last time they were reluctant to continue funding it. If they say no, then what?

    Also the ISS itself was only designed to operate to 2015, so it’s playing Technological Russian Roulette to keep it flying so long. All it takes is a failure in a critical system and you will have an uncontrolled re-entry like Skylab.

  • therealdmt


  • ThomasLMatula

    No, 2015 was the original date for it. Strategies to mitigate, but NOT fully eliminate the risk in extending it have been identified in this study.

  • Michael Halpern

    Replace the at risk modules with commercial counter parts,

  • gunsandrockets

    2030? First Obama stretches the ISS from 2016 to 2024, and now this? Ugh.

    So now the ISS has fully assumed the Sacred Cow role of the old dead Space Shuttle. ISS is another White Elephant which will delay NASA from advancing out into the Solar System for years if not decades. Just as Space Shuttle expenses trapped NASA in Low Earth Orbit for decades.

    And I expect that just like the Space Shuttle, the Congressional pork caucus will keep wasting money on the Space Station until it too fails catastrophically.

  • Tom Billings

    The problem is the one module that above all else that Senators from Texas want to preserve. That being the one inclusive of Johnson Space Center and its payroll budget. As more and more modules in Space get replaced by newer and cheaper to operate designs, the one near Houston will become ever more exposed, and ever more at risk.

    The problem is the same as at MSFC and its contractors, but more purely operational, rather than development of hardware. The only Space Stations to be profitable will be ones that do not need support from JSC. So a nice smooth transition means finding something else for JSC to excuse paying its payroll each month. It isn’t there.

  • Search

    Riiight. Because delegations from CA (ARC, ARFC and JPL), FL (KSC), OH (GRC), MD (GSFC), VA (LaRC and WFF), D.C. (HQ), and MS (SCC) are all for closing down NASA centers in THEIR home districts aren’t they.

  • Tom Billings

    Not at all. Each of those delegations acts in the patterns of LBJ, gaining political clout from political allocation of resources. The point *I* was making is that the easiest means of doing that, a single, large, program, is *not* the best return on the spaceflight dollar in most cases. This is the political double taxation we pay for the majority of politically allocated resources. The LBJian Party makes sure of it, whether they are formally Republican or Democrat.

    It is what makes so much of spaceflight still, pre-industrial, by any competent definition of the industrial revolution. The competent definition being, IMHO, Arnold Toynbee’s:

    “When a society moves from allocating resources by custom and tradition (moderns read here, by politics) to allocating resources by markets, it can be said to have undergone an industrial revolution.”

    Spaceflight is another part of American society that is just beginning to make that transition. But it *is* coming, and the effect will be revolutionary. I expect one result will show up in Texas as a shift of the highest percentage of spaceflight dollars from the Houston area to the Brownsville area.

  • Not Invented Here

    Note the European partners are not paying money to NASA for use of ISS, they’re bartering in the form of building Orion’s service module for NASA. So if Europe doesn’t want to continue using ISS, it won’t affect ISS at all, it will only ground Orion.

    Japan is contributing by flying HTV, if they pull out, NASA will need to spend some more money to buy commercial resupply, which is good news for commercial space.

    This just leaves the Russians.

  • envy

    The issues and delays with Ares, Orion, and SLS leave me doubting that canning ISS would do much if anything to help NASA advance into the Solar System. NASA needs a new direction, not more money.

  • envy

    “fully eliminating” risk is impossible. Boeing certified that the major components of the US half of ISS will be acceptable to NASA standards through 2028.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Didn’t they also certify that the Space Shuttle was good until 2015 😊

  • ThomasLMatula

    The problem with Brownsville that no one is talking about is that SpaceX will only be able to launch about a dozen times a year and only when the sea turtles are not nesting.

    The second problem will be when folks start realizing that the EIS which was done for a Falcon 9 doesn’t apply to the BFR, which under some launch conditions will be louder than a Saturn V, likely breaking windows in the thousands of Condos on South Padre Island just across the channel from the launch site.

    That is why the Texas Aerospace Commission proposed locating the South Texas Spaceport up by Port Mansfield. An even better site would be at the abandoned USAF base on Matagorda Island since it’s possible to do high inclination as well as easterly launches. But no one it seems bother to see if anyone has done research on such things before…

  • envy

    I don’t recall that. In any event, the Shuttle’s major safety risks had little to do with age. NASA never really solved the debris strike issues that destroyed Columbia.

    Plus, the Orbiters were more than 3 times beyond their original design life of 10 years. The ISS is still a youngster.

  • Tom Billings

    Then the spaceflight dollars may move to Matagorda Island, but it *will* move away from LBJ’s favored friends in the Houston swamp zone. This change, from political allocation of resources to market allocation will be critical to moving industrial society into the Solar System.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Actually the move will be away from NASA to private industry, so that Wall Street and Silicon Valley will be more important than Washington D.C. It will be interesting to see if cities like Houston, Huntsville and Florida will make the transition or try to cling to NASA funding.

    The development of Spaceport Houston as a space entrepreneurial zone focusing on tech development and payloads instead of rocket launches makes me think that Houston has a chance of making the transition, especially given the flows of capital available from the energy industry.

  • mike shupp

    Space Shuttle costs did NOT “trap NASA in LEO for decades.” The United States is not, and was not a poor nation in the 1970’s and after. It could have afforded both Shuttle and additional human spaceflight projects — building a Moon base, for instance. But the US (and other nations) is not eager to begin new HSF programs — the cost of something like an Antarctic-style moon base would certainly be more than running the ISS, the ultimate goals would be contentious (self-sufficiency in 2040? independent statehood in 2099?) ; its operation would be constrained by the Outer Space Treaty and the need for support from other spacefaring powers, and there would be considerable domestic political costs (roughly speaking, a third of American voters are not going to like any large new space program).

    IOW, the US is “trapped” in LEO because the US government is fearful to going further. Our politicians want the acclaim for being “leaders” of course, but … On the other hand, British and European and Chinese and Russian and Australian and Canadian politicians aren’t any different.

  • gunsandrockets

    Money is always an issue, and the issue is not an “either ISS or SLS” problem, the problem is with both projects.

    NASA is never going to get a significant budget increase, that is the fiscal reality of NASA. So NASA has to make do with what they are given.

    That being the case, all money wasted on any wasteful project will delay the progress of NASA. Shuttle was a waste, ISS is a waste, SLS is a waste, Orion is a waste, all of them delay NASA by wasting NASA money.

    Would canning ISS do nothing? Only if you consider half the manned spaceflight budget of NASA as nothing, because that is how much money ISS soaks up from NASA. Half!

    There was a moment in time when it looked like NASA was going to move in a more promising direction, I would say that time spanned about 2004-2005. But then Griffin bolluxed the whole thing up with his badly conceived Project Constellation, and NASA hasn’t recovered since then. Instead the old bad NASA/Congressional pattern reasserted itself, and here we are.

  • gunsandrockets

    Yes, the Shuttle trapped NASA. It was so expensive to run that NASA had nothing left over for any manned spaceflight ambition beyond LEO.

    And NASA doesn’t require Apollo era sized budgets to go beyond LEO. Over enough time NASA has spent enormous amounts on manned spaceflight, more than was spent during the entire Apollo program. Yet here NASA remains, decades later, still stuck in LEO.

    NASA has enough resources to accomplish ambitious objectives. But not if they waste money on porktacular projects like the International Space Station and the Space Launch System.

  • Tom Billings

    I had not remembered Spaceport Houston. Maybe that *will* work out. You are quite correct about the transition. Not so much away from NASA, but into the civil sector which can be so much more than government, even government including NASA. In a number of developing societies, the government’s size may stay the same, but the rest of society, Civil Society, once the freedom to do so is established, grows up around them, like a jungle forest swallowing a Mayan Pyramid. Better they do it in decades, rather than centuries, of course.

  • envy

    That cycle is unlikely to change without major disruption. Fortunately SpaceX and company appear to be well on the way to providing that disruption.

  • mike shupp

    NASA does not, figuratively anyhow, operate in a vacuum. There’s a US President, an Office of Management and Budget, and two houses of Congress which order its procedures and specify its goals. Maybe you don’t like this — I’m not totally sure I do! — but that’s the way it is

    You might as well object to the modern US Army, which is certainly big enough and tough enough to overrun Iran any time the brass decides. So, what’s going wrong? you might wonder. Iran’s an irritant, just like Nazi Germany used to be, so why haven’t those lazy so-and-so’s in the Pentagon bestirred themselves and wiped out Iran, they could have done so years ago. Which might seem appealing, but isn’t a good way to run a country.

  • gunsandrockets

    I’m not blaming NASA, I’m blaming those people inside of NASA, and outside, whether politicians or professionals or voters or just interested bystanders, who foolishly (or selfishly) support wasteful practices.