Op-ed | The next space age
Outer space is the last frontier of human exploration. Unfortunately, the glory days of landing men on the moon are now a distant memory. So too are the memories of watching space shuttles rumble to life and roar to space fading away.
That is poised to change and America is ready to lead the way.
Today, the private sector in the United States is on the cusp of unlocking the great economic potential of outer space. Innovators and entrepreneurs are investing in companies to mine asteroids, repair satellites and manufacture goods in outer space.
But regulatory uncertainty and burdensome bureaucracy threatens to push American investment and jobs overseas. It should surprise no one that government rules on testing, launches, reentry, live video, pictures and activities in space are badly outdated.
That’s why Congress and the Trump administration are pursuing aggressive updates to the existing system. As step one, President Donald Trump reconstituted the National Space Council and appointed Vice President Mike Pence to chair the group, which also includes cabinet officials, policy experts and voices from industry and academia.
One of Pence’s first initiatives, approved by the Council, was to “unlock new opportunities, new technologies and new sources of prosperity” by building a robust space economy.
The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act, which we introduced along with now-NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, accomplishes these goals. The bill empowers the Commerce Department to lead the promotion and regulation of private space activities so American industry can innovate, grow and compete. It creates a competitive regulatory environment so America becomes the country of choice for private sector space activities. All this while also protecting national security and fulfilling our Outer Space Treaty obligations.
Our bill creates a one-stop shop in the Office of the Secretary of Commerce for space activities, something that brings a sigh of relief to anyone who’s had to deal shuffle between federal offices to get multiple approvals for the same proposals.
Plus, the Commerce Department is best equipped — in both its longstanding mission and agency culture — to help entrepreneurs and innovators build companies and succeed in business. A perfect fit for the nascent space economy.
And the bill, along with its various provisions, is progressing. In April, the House unanimously passed the bill and sent it to the Senate. Recently, President Trump included much of the bill’s goals in Space Policy Directive-2. Coinciding with the directive, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced a major reorganization of his department that adopts our bill’s provisions. To ensure success, Secretary Ross is putting people, money and expertise into a new Space Policy Advancing Commercial Enterprise (SPACE) Administration and a restructured Office of Space Commerce. We applaud the president, the vice president and the secretary for carrying out this reorganization.
Congressional appropriators are also on board. The House Appropriations Committee more than doubled the Office of Space Commerce’s budget in fiscal year 2019 to $5 million.
The momentum is building for the bill, and the last stop before becoming law is the U.S. Senate. We need champions in the Senate to fight for the bill in committee and on the floor. Those individuals will have their names etched in history as the pivotal figures who put on the president’s desk a bipartisan, bicameral bill to invigorate the next space age and maintain America’s leadership in space. Let’s get it done.
Rep. Lamar Smith serves the 21st District of Texas and is the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Rep. Brian Babin serves the 36th District of Texas and is the chairman of the Space Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.