Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said at a May 14 hearing of his space subcommittee that the proposed Space Force could play a role protecting commercial activities in space. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate’s space subcommittee said Oct. 31 that his counterparts in the House seemed uninterested in working on legislation to modernize commercial space regulations.

In a speech at a forum organized by the Air Line Pilots Association and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation on airspace issues for commercial launches, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the aviation and space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, said there was no sign that the House was willing to move ahead with legislation such as the Space Frontier Act in the Senate.

The House took up legislation at the end of the last Congress called the Space Frontier Act, which passed the Senate in December by unanimous consent. The bill, though, failed to get the two-thirds majority required for passage in the House under a procedure known as “suspension of the rules” used for expedited passage of legislation.

Cruz and several other senators from both parties reintroduced the Space Frontier Act in March. The bill, favorably reported by the Senate Commerce Committee in April, calls for reforms of commercial launch and remote sensing regulations, which are already in progress, extends the authorization of the International Space Station through 2030 and elevates the Office of Space Commerce within the Commerce Department to the Bureau of Space Commerce, led by an assistant secretary.

The House, though, has not introduced a companion bill or related legislation, a lack of action that Cruz criticized. “It’s now been nearly a year since the Space Frontier Act has been on the House floor, and airlines, airline pilots and commercial space companies are no closer to getting greater certainty or having more of a voice on how our national airspace is managed than they were a year ago,” he said.

Cruz suggested that the House was preoccupied by other matters, including likely impeachment proceedings against President Trump. “Many of the individuals who are gathered in this room today are the ones who are feeling the greatest impact moving forward due to the House’s failure not only to enact the Space Frontier Act, but also its current disinterest in taking any meaningful steps to address this issue,” he said.

The House Science Committee’s space subcommittee has held one hearing devoted to commercial space so far this year, in July. That hearing was largely an overview of the topic, one that the subcommittee’s chairperson, Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), described in her opening statement as a “commercial space 101 that will guide us in prioritizing the key issues and areas to examine as we look forward to subsequent hearings on commercial space.”

Asked about Cruz’s comments, a spokesperson for the House Science Committee pointed to a statement by the committee’s chairperson, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), at that same July hearing. In that statement, she said the committee needed to be “fully informed” about the state of the commercial space industry before making policy.

“In the waning hours of the last Congress, there were attempts to pass commercial space legislation,” she said, a reference to the Space Frontier Act last December. “That was a rushed effort and not the optimal way to legislate on such important matters as the future of commercial space. We need to get it right.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...