Senate passes amended launch indemnification bill, but time may have already run out

The good news for the commercial launch industry: late Thursday, the Senate passed a three-year extension of the third-party commercial launch indemnification regime, which is due to expire at the end of this year. The Senate passed the extension via unanimous consent, as reported here earlier this week. “The certainty of a three year extension will help the U.S. commercial space industry continue to grow and thrive, both here in Florida and around the country,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who sponsored the extension, in a statement yesterday evening.

The bad news, though, is that since the House passed only a one-year extension last week, the Senate’s three-year extension needs to go back to the House for passage there. And, late Thursday, the House adjourned after passing the budget deal announced earlier this week and the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill, with no plans to reconvene (except in pro forma sessions) until January 7. With launch indemnification slated to expire at the end of this month, this means either the Senate will have to go back and approve the one-year version the House passed, or wait until the House returns in January, thus creating a lapse in the indemnification regime.

(Update Friday 5:45 pm: a spokesperson for Sen. Nelson emailed Friday afternoon that the most likely course of action for the bill, since the House has adjourned until early January, will be to wait until they return and have them take up the bill. That means that there will be a gap in the launch indemnification regime, which could complicate any commercial launches, particularly by Orbital and SpaceX, planned for early 2014.)

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