New House space subcommittee chair plans to address commercial space issues

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WASHINGTON — The new chair of the House space subcommittee says she’s looking forward to working with the commercial space industry on a number of issues, including oversight of non-traditional space activities.

In a Feb. 13 speech at the Commercial Space Transportation Conference here, Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.) said she wants to take on a number of issues that affect the industry as the new chair of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee.

“I am incredibly encouraged and excited to be able to have the gavel with the space subcommittee,” she said in brief remarks at the conference. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

Horn, elected to her first term in Congress last November, is not new to space issues. She worked for several years at the Space Foundation a deacde ago as director of communications and manager of government affairs.

One issue she touched on in her remarks is oversight of what are often called “non-traditional” space activities, like satellite servicing and commercial lunar missions. Unlike communications and remote sensing satellites, and launches and reentries, no government agency has formal oversight of them to provide the authorization and continuing supervision needed by Article 6 of the Outer Space Treaty.

“This year we’re going to continue to look at a means for authorizing and supervising new types of commercial space systems, including satellite servicing, that just don’t currently have a place that they currently fit under our regulatory environment,” she said. “This is a dialogue that we need to continue to have.”

She didn’t specify a preferred approach for providing that oversight. The House, under Republican control last year, passed a bill that would give that oversight to the Office of Space Commerce within the Commerce Department. The Senate, though, moved alternative legislation that didn’t address that issue; the Senate approved that bill, the Space Frontier Act, but it died in the House in December.

Another issue she raised is the development of standards. The Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, signed into law in 2015, called on the Federal Aviation Administration to work with companies on voluntary industry consensus standards to improve the safety of those who fly on commercial spacecraft. Such standards are in lieu of formal government standards, which the FAA is restricted from enacting until no earlier than 2023.

Horn suggested that approach be revisited. “I think that’s something we’re going to have to take a look at, and see how we begin to move that into the next phases,” she said. “How that process has worked, and the lessons we have learned, need to inform our thinking moving forward and find the right pathway in a regulatory environment that is balanced.”

Horn replaces as the top Democrat on the space subcommittee Ami Bera (D-Calif.), who was ranking member in the previous Congress when Republicans were in the majority. Bera is now the vice chair of the full science committee.

Bera remains on the subcommittee along with several other returning members, including Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) New Democrats on the committee includes Reps. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) and Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), who both defeated Republican members of Congress who served on the committee.

Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), who chaired the subcommittee in the previous Congress when Republicans were in the majority, returns as ranking member. Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Bill Posey (R-Fla.) remain on the subcommittee, joined by Reps. Pete Olson (R-Texas) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.)