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House Passes Commercial Space Liability Bill

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to promote the commercial space industry by limiting liability for operators and ensuring light oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration. Lead sponsors of the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act were Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and Steve Knight, R-Palmdale. McCarthy’s district includes the Mojave Air & Space Port where Virgin Galactic LLC, XCOR Aerospace, Stratolaunch Systems and other companies are developing space vehicles to take passengers into space or launch payloads into low-Earth orbit. The bill gives commercial space companies some protection from liability involving property, personal injuries and fatalities on the ground. It also bars the FAA from closely regulating startup space-tourism ventures through 2025. As a result, companies developing space vehicles would not need approval from the FAA and space companies flying passengers would only have to warn of the risk and have passengers sign waivers personally accepting responsibility. During debate on the bill, McCarthy said it provides predictability for commercial space project, the Wall Street Journal reported. “A new generation of pioneers” is eager “to embark on the next stage of space exploration and we should not hold them back” with unnecessary federal regulations, McCarthy was quoted in the Journal. However, it appears unlikely the bill will become law in its current form due to opposition from Democrats, who said it was too favorable to the industry and did not adequately protect the public. Last year, SpaceShipTwo, a commercial passenger craft being developed by Virgin Galactic, crashed during a test flight, killing one test pilot and injuring another. The Oct. 31 accident strew debris across miles of the Mojave Desert. The bill, which passed by a 284-133 vote, now moves to the Senate, which has its own legislation. The Senate bill differs by setting a 2020 deadline for when the FAA can establish regulations for the industry.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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