Yesterday House and Senate conferees released the final, compromise version of a long-delayed FAA reauthorization bill that Congress is expected to pass in the coming days. While the debate about the bill revolved primarily around labor provisions in the bill, the commercial space transportation industry was waiting to see if it would contain an extension of a provision in the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act (CSLAA) of 2004 that restricts the ability of the FAA to enact safety regulations for crew and spaceflight participants on FAA-licensed launched. That restriction expires eight years after the CSLAA’s enactment, or December 23rd of this year. The House version of the FAA reauthorization would amend the CSLAA by keeping the restriction in place until eight years after the first licensed flight of a spaceflight participant, while the Senate version had no language about the CSLAA.
The conference report version of the FAA reauthorization bill gives the industry a partial victory. Section 827 of the bill (on page 318), tucked away in the “Miscellaneous” section of the bill between sections on air passenger screening privacy and air transportation of lithium batteries, extends the current restriction on safety regulations, but only to October 1, 2015. The joint statement of managers of the conference report provides a few more details, on page 152 of the PDF document: “Nothing in this provision is intended to prohibit the FAA and industry stakeholders from entering into discussions intended to prepare the FAA for its role in appropriately regulating the commercial space flight industry when this provision expires.”
Update: Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), whose previously spoke out in favor of an extension of that CSLAA provision, issued a press release today taking credit for getting at least a limited extension into the final bill. The release quotes from several industry officials as well—Eric Anderson of Space Adventures and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Jeff Greason of XCOR Aerospace, Mirk Sirangelo of Sierra Nevada Corp., and George Whitesides of Virgin Galactic—praising the extension. McCarthy, the House majority whip, serves a district that includes the Mojave Air and Space Port, a hub of entrepreneurial space activity.