spaceshiptwo glide flight
SpaceShipTwo, attached to its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, takes off Feb. 24 from Mojave, California. Credit: Virgin Galactic

RENTON, Wash. — The House of Representatives passed two non-controversial space bills June 27 addressing leadership in rocket propulsion research and licensing of commercial space support vehicles.

On voice votes, the House passed H.R. 5345, the American Leadership in Space Technology and Advanced Rocketry (ALSTAR) Act, and H.R. 5346, Commercial Space Support Vehicle Act, after brief debates and with no opposition.

The ALSTAR Act establishes a “sense of Congress” that NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center be considered the lead center for non-military rocket propulsion research in the United States. It calls on the center to take several steps to use that influence, from interagency coordination and collaboration with industry to evaluating and recommending specific technologies for further development. The bill, though, neither authorizes nor appropriates any funding for those tasks.

“As Congress guides America’s national space policy, we must promote the robust rocket propulsion industrial base that is essential to our space presence,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), the bill’s sponsor, in remarks on the House floor.

The Commercial Space Support Vehicle Act directs the Department of Transportation, through the Federal Aviation Administration, to issue licenses and experimental permits for “space support vehicles,” which include aircraft flights that provide training for or research supporting commercial launches. They include aircraft such as Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo and Stratolaunch’s giant aircraft under development, which are intended to serve as air-launch platforms, as well as F-104 aircraft operated by Starfighters Aerospace for high-performance training and research.

Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.), the bill’s sponsor, linked the bill to Space Policy Directive 2, which calls on the Transportation Department to streamline launch licensing regulations by Feb. 1, a month before the deadline in the bill for the FAA to make necessary regulatory changes. “The intent of timing is to include the development of regulations in the regulatory reform process that the Vice President and the National Space Council tasked the FAA to complete by that date,” he said in remarks on the House floor.

Both bills passed through the House Science Committee, which favorably reported them to the House floor in March. “The passage of H.R. 5345 and H.R. 5346 reaffirms our commitment to keeping America the global leader in the growing space economy,” said committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) in a statement after the bills’ passage. “It is vital we continue to support NASA and our commercial space sector so that we maintain a vibrant space program to inspire generations to come.”

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...