Washington D.C. (CSF PR)– The Commercial Spaceflight Federation thanks the Members of the House of Representatives for the passage of H.R. 3547 today. The bill provides critical funding for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and extends government risk-sharing for U.S. commercial launch companies until December 31, 2016. The previous law that provided this risk-sharing expired on December 31, 2013.
The bill funds NASA’s Commercial Crew Program at $696 million, a significant increase from FY13.
Congress wants to extent a cost-sharing agreement between industry and the federal government to cover losses from commercial launch accidents beyond its expiration date at the end of the year. The main question seems to be how long of an extension will be passed.
Legislators in the House have introduced a bi-partisan measure, H.R. 3547, to extend the protections by one year. Over in the Senate, Bill Nelson (D-FL) has introduced S. 1753 to extend the indemnification regime by three years.
Under the system, commercial launch providers must cover third-party losses up to $500 million. The government will step in to pay any losses from $500 million to $1.5 billion. Anything above that level reverts back to the company.
In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Space on Wednesday, Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt urged legislators to extend the “learning period” for new space systems to eight years, remove suborbital tourism vehicles from the ITAR list, and to make permanent the risk-sharing launch indemnification in which the government covers damages from private space missions above a certain level.
“This industry needs regulatory certainty,” Witt said in his prepared remarks. “But the learning period restriction on unsubstantiated safety regulations expires in less than two years and the risk-sharing (indemnification) regime expires at the end of next month. That regulatory uncertainty is difficult for many companies. I ask Congress to make Indemnification permanent, and also extend the Learning Period to a full eight years of R&D and operational flights to provide regulatory certainty to firms developing passenger carrying vehicles.”
If the “fiscal cliff” fiasco is not sufficient evidence of Congress’s complete dysfunction, consider the following bill that extends the expiring commercial launch indemnification regime by two years. The House of Representatives approved the measure on Nov. 13 and sent it along to the Senate the following day.
H. R. 6586
To extend the application of certain space launch liability provisions through 2014.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. EXTENSION.
Section 50915(f) of title 51, United States Code, is amended by striking `December 31, 2012′ and inserting `December 31, 2014′.
Passed the House of Representatives November 13, 2012.
The bill changes a single date in the current law and is not controversial. Yet, it has not been acted on yet by the Senate even though the current regime expires at midnight on Monday.
Under the law, commercial launch operators are protected against third-party losses that exceed the amount of insurance coverage they purchase. The federal government picks the costs of any damages above those levels.
If the law is not extended, then the commercial launch industry — which just becoming competitive again in the global market — will face hikes in their insurance rates. At least until the new Congress can consider a new bill next year.