Smith Remarks on the New Era in Space
WASHINGTON – Chairman Lamar Smith of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee gave remarks today at the Hudson Institute’s discussion of the New Era in Space. Smith’s remarks touched on the growing private sector presence in space and how the government can effectively collaborate with industry while spurring investment and innovation.
Additionally, Smith explained how two Committee bills, H.R. 5346, the Commercial Space Support Vehicle Act, and H.R. 6226, the American Space SAFE Management Act, are designed to enable the Department of Commerce to be responsible for carrying out the supervision of space activities. “The Commerce Department is best equipped to help entrepreneurs and innovators build companies and succeed in business,” Smith said.
The full text of the remarks, as prepared for delivery, is below:
Thanks to the Hudson Institute and Ken Weinstein for inviting me to be here.
A generation ago, space was largely an unexplored frontier. Few would have imagined a world of reusable private space rockets, global telecommunications and remote sensing, private space stations, celestial resource prospecting, or on-orbit manufacturing.
A highly dynamic international security environment has changed space from a sanctuary to a congested and contested domain. At the same time, the private sector is opening up new frontiers and taking an increasingly important role in outer space.
New technologies and novel strategies are lowering the costs of access to space. The standardization of space technologies and satellite platforms enable a robust human presence in the sky above us.
New entrants, such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, along with companies with a long heritage like Lockheed and Boeing, are investing significant capital in space exploration. Private equity is funding a new era of innovation that is changing the economics of space activities. With this evolution comes new challenges.
The Outer Space Treaty was developed in 1967 to establish a framework for international space law. Among other provisions, the Outer Space Treaty requires national governments to be responsible for all space activities carried out by their nation, whether the missions are led by government or private companies.
American space operators have long faced uncertainty about which federal agency has responsibility for approving non-traditional space initiatives and ensuring compliance with the Outer Space Treaty.
In some instances, this uncertainty has constrained capital formation, driving American companies overseas. With increased commercial activity in space, this uncertainty is becoming a larger problem.
Outdated and cumbersome regulations continue to hinder innovation by companies that focus on launch, remote sensing, and non-traditional space technologies.
Those are some of the challenges we face. But there are solutions. Continued U.S. leadership in outer space requires us to maximize and integrate the strengths of all three groups of stakeholders: military, government research, and commercial. This will result in a new concept of national power in outer space.
We must use the energy of a vibrant private sector and create laws and policies that bring all three communities together, working towards a common end: American leadership in space.
The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is contributing to this effort. Two of our bills this year established the United States as the jurisdiction of choice for private space activities.
The first bill, the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act, provides a legal and policy framework that simplifies the space-based remote sensing regulatory system, enhances compliance with international obligations, improves national security and removes regulatory barriers facing innovative space operators.
The need for this legislation became clear during the previous Administration when serious uncertainty arose after U.S. space exploration companies sought payload approval from the Department of Transportation for non-traditional space activities.
But the DOT payload approval process is only designed to prevent the launch of payloads that jeopardize American interests and safety. It does not provide for the authorization and supervision of in-space activities, as required by the Outer Space Treaty.
So the Executive Branch has been unable to assure the private sector that new and innovative space missions would be approved for launch.
Another important aspect of the bill is updating space-based remote sensing regulations. Hundreds of private remote sensing satellites orbit the Earth today, and we all rely on these satellites for accurate mapping, enhanced agriculture, and improved weather forecasts.
But existing law governing the licensing of space-based remote sensing was enacted in 1992 at a time when there were no private remote sensing satellites.
The law put the burden on the applicant to justify its operations. This is stifling private innovation and putting U.S. industry at a disadvantage.
Our bill fixes this broken system by providing a streamlined licensing process aimed towards approval, not denial.
This legislation will spur investment and innovation, which will create new high-paying, high-value jobs across the country. It increases American competitiveness and attracts companies, talents, and money that would otherwise go to other countries.
The bill also consolidates regulatory authorities into one federal agency: the Secretary of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce. The result is a single decision point for the authorization of activities in outer space.
In short, the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act ensures the U.S. and its workforce will benefit from the new space-economy.
The second Science Committee bill, the American Space SAFE Management Act, establishes a space traffic management framework built on science and technology, space situational awareness, and space traffic coordination.
Today, there are eleven hundred active satellites in orbit. In a few years, there will be tens of thousands. A variety of new spacecraft soon will go into operation. They could include private space stations, on-orbit repair and refueling satellites, and celestial resource prospectors.
This Act directs the Administration to coordinate its Federal research and development investments in space traffic management.
It directs the Administration to work collaboratively with the private sector and establishes a NASA Center of Excellence that will develop, lead, and promote research in space traffic management.
This bill also creates a civil space situational awareness (SSA) program within the Department of Commerce. Commerce will provide a basic level of SSA information and services, free of charge, to the public.
While the Department of Defense retains the information gathering resources currently used to compile the catalog of space objects, Commerce will augment that with data from other sources, including the private sector and foreign partners.
And the Act establishes a space traffic management framework. This framework consists of voluntary guidelines developed by the government, standards developed by industry, and a pilot space traffic coordination program.
The pilot program allows the government and stakeholders to experiment and develop best practices to manage space traffic.
It is a common-sense first step in what will be a long-term process of creating a comprehensive space traffic management framework.
Both of these bills direct the Department of Commerce to be responsible for carrying out the supervision of space activities.
The reason for that is simple: because of its longstanding mission and agency culture, the Commerce Department is best equipped to help entrepreneurs and innovators build companies and succeed in business.
Many of the bills’ goals have been included in President Trump’s Space Policy Directives. And Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced a major reorganization of his Department that reflects our bills’ 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 should thank the president, the vice president, and Secretary Ross for carrying out this reorganization.
The momentum is building for these bills and the last step before becoming law is approval by the U.S. Senate. We need champions there to get these bills through committee and on to the Senate floor.
Farsighted and determined policymakers and scientists led the charge for the first wave of space exploration.
Now it is our responsibility to expand our leadership in space, working together with visionaries like Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk.
The history of space exploration will feature this bipartisan, bicameral bill as having invigorated the next space age and maintained America’s leadership in space.
America is the prominent actor on the global stage of outer space. We have the responsibility and the expertise to guide the world toward a peaceable, prosperous, and safe space environment. But we need to act, and act now.