Senate passes launch indemnification bill—with a catch

The fiscal cliff wasn’t the only thing the Senate was dealing with in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day. The Senate passed by unanimous consent HR 6586, legislation the House passed in November to extend commercial launch indemnification by two years.

While that initially sounds like good news for the industry, there’s a catch: the Senate passed not the original House bill, but instead an amended version proposed by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). The amendment replaces the text with a scaled-down version of S.3661, the Space Exploration Sustainability Act, that the two senators introduced last month after they failed to get amendments into the defense authorization bill. The amended bill extends NASA’s existing waiver to provisions of the Iran North Korea Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) from mid-2016 to the end of 2020, and includes a “Sense of Congress” clause that NASA should develop both SLS/Orion and commercial crew systems in a balanced manner. The amendment also extends commercial launch indemnification by only one year; both the original House bill and the standalone Nelson-Hutchison bill extended indemnification for two years.

The amendment means that the House will have to pass the amended version, and do so before the new Congress convenes Thursday. The House will be in session on Tuesday to take up the fiscal cliff bill the Senate approved last night, but the amended HR 6586 is not on the schedule of bills to be considered today.

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