Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Science Committee, said she opposed the commercial space bill but was willing to work with Republicans to modify it. Credit: House Science Committee webcast

WASHINGTON — The House Science Committee voted on party lines to send a commercial space bill to the full House, although with the possibility of modifications before a vote there.

The committee voted Nov. 29 to favorably report H.R. 6131, the Commercial Space Act of 2023. The bill advanced on a 21-17 vote, with Republican members of the committee voting in favor of the bill and Democrats against it.

The vote was the conclusion of a markup of the bill that started Nov. 15. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), recessed the markup before the vote because of other votes on the House floor, saying that the committee would complete consideration of the bills after the Thanksgiving break.

“H.R. 6131 is critical to supporting America’s commercial space economy, as it streamlines the regulatory environment, ensures compliance with international treaty obligations, reduces administrative burdens and promotes best practices in orbit,” Lucas said in a statement after the vote. “Promoting a transparent, responsible environment here at home will strengthen our domestic industry and encourage an arena rife with innovation.”

Democrats on the committee opposed the bill during the earlier markup, noting the committee was considering the bill just after the White House released its proposal for “mission authorization” of novel space activities not currently regulated by other agencies. The proposal from the National Space Council differed significantly from the mission authorization process in the House bill.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), ranking member of the committee, reiterated that opposition to the bill during the final vote but expressed a willingness to work with Republicans to modify the bill before it goes to the full House.

“We have concerns and questions about some of this,” she said of the bill, but did not elaborate on specific issues with the bill. “We hope to work with the majority between now and the floor so all of us can be confident that this is the consensus of where we should move.”

The House bill is closer to what some in industry for mission authorization. In a letter this week to the leadership of the House Science Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation said it was opposed to the White House proposal because of potential confusion on which agency would be responsible for regulating some activities and the burden it would place in particular on the Federal Aviation Administration. It backed an approach that assigned mission authorization to the Office of Space Commerce, which the House bill does.

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...