Cape Canaveral from space
Cape Canaveral and its various launch sites as seen from orbit. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — Legislation introduced in Congress Feb. 28 would give spaceports the same ability as airports and seaports to issue tax-exempt bonds.

The Secure U.S. Leadership in Space Act of 2024, introduced simultaneously in the House and Senate, would amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow spaceports to issue tax-exempt municipal revenue bonds to fund infrastructure improvements. That authority already exists for airports and seaports.

“In the race for space dominance, we cannot afford to fall behind,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who introduced the Senate version of the bill with Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), in a statement. A companion bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) and Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.)

Rubio said the bill was vital to increase investment in spaceport infrastructure to keep pace with China and its growing launch activities. “As adversaries like China continue to expand their presence in space, it’s imperative the United States takes decisive action to bolster our own capabilities.”

“It speaks to the importance of investing in spaceport and space transportation infrastructure nationwide,” Rob Long, president of Space Florida, said in an interview. Space Florida, the state’s aerospace finance and development authority, had been advocating for the change to help support investment in spaceport facilities there. “We saw this need and wanted to make sure that we are treating spaceports the same as airports and seaports in terms of the ability to issue tax-exempt bonds.”

He said having the ability to issue tax-exempt bonds would attract investors to support spaceport projects. “There’s so much interest out there in the ability to take advantage of these things. I think we’ll see even more investment in space transportation, infrastructure, if these things are allowed to go forward.”

Such bonds, Long argued, could allow projects to be funded more quickly and at a lower cost of capital. An example of a project that could have benefited from those bonds is a payload processing facility that Amazon is building at the Kennedy Space Center for its Project Kuiper satellites. While that project was funded through other means, he said there was a “reasonable expectation” that bonds could have helped that project.

Space Florida has been advocating for several years for allowing spaceports to use tax-exempt bonds. He said he was not aware of any opposition to the effort, but that it was more of an issue of awareness. “It probably wouldn’t have been until the last couple of years that you’ve seen that investment really start to be needed as the capacity and the cadence of launched started to increase and the demands on the infrastructure also started to increase,” he said.

If Congress passes the legislation, Long said Space Florida would assess the more than 150 projects it is considering statewide to see which would be good fits for bonds. “I would think that there’s going to be some significant ones in the offing here in the near term that might be logical choices for that,” he said, but did not mention any specific projects.

Having access to tax-exempt bonds, he said, would be another stop towards considering spaceflight as another mode of transportation more broadly. “I think it’s continuing to normalize spaceports is as analogous to airports and seaports,” he said, “as we start to talk about space transportation as just another mode of transportation.”

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...