TAMPA, Fla. — A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee unanimously approved five space-related bills March 8, including legislation seeking to modernize regulations for satellites in non-geostationary orbit (NGSO).

They were among 13 bills approved in the communications and technology subcommittee’s markup session, some with amendments. The bills must now be approved by the full committee before they can go to the House floor for a vote. 

Headlining the markup session were a pair of bills co-sponsored by the top Republican and Democrat on the full House Energy and Commerce committee — the Satellite and Telecommunications Streamlining Act and Secure Space Act – which would reform regulations at the Federal Communications Commission.

They come as the FCC establishes a dedicated space bureau to handle its increasing work in the industry.

Satellite and Telecommunications Streamlining Act (HR 1338)

Led by House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy Rodgers (R-Wash.), and co-sponsored by Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), this bill would give the FCC defined deadlines for processing satellite license applications.

These deadlines include a one-year limit for the regulator to decide whether to approve applications for new satellites regardless of orbit — although this could be extended under extraordinary circumstances or for national security reviews.

The bill touches upon a broad range of other industry issues, including space sustainability and satellite spectrum sharing.

“This is the first legislation in decades to update our laws governing how satellites are licensed by the FCC,” Rodgers said.

It would require the FCC to “modernize its rules to encourage operators to base their operations in the United States,” she said, “and incentivize operators to be responsible stewards of space and spectrum in a global marketplace.”

These changes “will help U.S. companies compete globally and help us stay ahead of our adversaries like the Chinese Communist Party who seek to overtake our lead,” Rodgers said.

The Secure Space Act (HR 675)

This bill, led by Pallone and co-sponsored by Rodgers, would prohibit the FCC from granting satellite licenses to foreign entities the U.S. deems a threat to national security or domestic supply chains.

It builds on the Secure Equipment Act that became law in 2021 to ban the FCC from authorizing communications equipment from entities such as Chinese vendors Huwaei and ZTE.

“China has demonstrated it will stop at nothing to surveil Americans with tools like high altitude balloons and TikTok,” Rodgers said.

“We must not let them do the same with satellite communications networks.”

Rodgers introduced an amendment to ensure the restrictions apply to geostationary satellite systems in addition to those in NGSO, which Pallone approved.

Launch Communications Act (HR 682)

This bill would streamline the process for accessing certain spectrum for performing commercial spacecraft launches and reentries.

There were 57 launches out of Florida last year and 87 are expected in 2023, according to Rep.  Darren Soto (D-Fla.), who co-sponsored the bill.

If access to spectrum is not streamlined, “we could see launchers start to stack up and limit the growth that we could have in an amazing field,” he said.

The bill was approved after an amendment introduced by co-sponsor Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) to ensure it applies to both federal and private launch sites.

Precision Agriculture Satellite Connectivity Act (HR 1339)

The FCC would be compelled to review rule changes that could help promote space-based communications for the agriculture market under this bill

Satellite technology “plays a key role in connecting equipment or sensors in the field,” said co-sponsor Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), and “Earth observation technology can also help farmers image their land” and make decisions that “lower the cost of inputs like fertilizer and water.”

Latta, who also chaired the subcommittee, said the bill “is a good step forward” to help farmers increase productivity and produce higher yields while minimizing operating costs.

Advanced, Local Emergency Response Telecommunications Parity Act (HR 1353)

This bill would facilitate the use of satellites as providers of connectivity for emergency services in areas hit by natural disasters or otherwise lacking wireless communications.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) said the legislation would help more providers of emergency connectivity services partner with terrestrial communications providers to improve access to emergency networks.

“It’s critical that we in Congress and the FCC keep up with the pace of these evolving technologies and ensure our constituents have uninhibited access to critical services like 911 and emergency alerts,” she said.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...