Status Report

Space Access Update #107: Commercial Space Launch Bill Nears Final Test In Senate

By SpaceRef Editor
December 4, 2004
Filed under , ,

Space Access Update #107 12/02/04
Copyright 2004 by Space Access Society

Commercial Space Launch Bill Nears Final Test In Senate

Urgent – Call Or Fax Both Your Senators Before Monday 12/6/04!

When last we saw HR 5382 (The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act,
which does useful things for would-be private space passenger carriers)
it had just been approved by the House of Representatives. (See for details.) (By the
way, thanks again for your efforts! 5382 needed a two-thirds majority
to pass the House under the streamlined procedure used in the last-
second Congressional rush, and got it, barely – chances are good you all
made the difference in that one.)

At the time, we told you that the Senate might also pass HR 5382 before
this 108th Congress gives way to the newly elected 109th (at which point
all unfinished 108th business simply goes away) but we were a little
short on details, and asked you all to stand by.

Alas, we’re still a little short on details, but the time has come to
act. HR 5382 does still have a long-shot chance to pass, we know that.
This Congress will be back in session one last time early next week,
mainly to once again try to pass two major bills, the huge catchall
“omnibus budget” spending measure and the “9/11” intelligence agencies
reorganization. The situation is complicated – more about it in the
“Background” section below – but what you can do to improve 5382’s odds
is simple:

Between now and the beginning of next week, contact both Senators from
your state and ask them to support HR 5382. The mechanics of this
should be familiar by now, though given that we have a bit more time
(Monday December 6th is the earliest the Senate might look at HR 5382
again) you have some options:

Phone Call

If you don’t have the phone number of your two Senators’ DC offices
handy, log on to and enter your nine-digit zip
code in the Find Your Representatives box, and scroll down to
“Senators”. Then phone both Washington DC offices (the area code 202
numbers) and tell whoever answers that you’re from [your hometown], and
you’re calling to ask Senator [your Senator’s name here] to support HR
5382. If they ask you for more info, do your best to provide it (take a
quick look at “Background” below – the short version is “because it’s
important for the success of the new commercial space flight industry”)
then thank them for their time and ring off. If you get answered
directly by a voicemail (more likely over the weekend) give the same
basic short pitch.


If you fax, be polite, brief, and straightforward – keep it well under
one page of reasonably large and readable print (a paragraph that’s
read is better than an essay that isn’t), make your basic point at the
start, support it briefly, then sign it with your name, city, and state
and send it. (No paper-mail letters – word is those currently are
backed up for months by security checks – and email comes in such
volumes that individual emails carry little weight. If you want to
write, fax it if you can.)


EVERBODY reading this who votes in the US needs to do this – every
Senator counts, as the only way the Senate will consider HR 5382 in the
very short time remaining in this Congress is under “unanimous consent”
rules – meaning all it takes is one Senator to put an (anonymous by
Senate custom) “hold” on HR 5382 and the bill is dead.

Our information is that when HR 5382 came up the week before last,
several Senators did so – but we don’t know anything useful about who,
or why – all we have is rumor and speculation.

Our estimate of the situation is that any attempt to do precise
targetting or message-tailoring would likely do more harm than good.
Our best shot is to contact the entire Senate and make the positive case
for HR 5382 to each and every Senator. If we’re lucky, the combination
of constituent interest, information, and possible persuasion from
fellow Senators who’ve also been hearing about it will sway all the
holdouts. As we said, it’s a bit of a long shot – but every last one of
you can help improve the odds. As soon as we’ve sent this out, we’re
going to go look up the numbers and make the calls – you do it too!

For more info on the history and content of HR 5382, see and
(HR 5382 is the latest hard-fought compromise version of HR 3752, which
in turn started out life as HR 3245.)

Our Brief Supporting Pitch

This new commercial space passenger industry has huge promise. It’s
appropriate to have the FAA stringently regulate risk to uninvolved
bystanders from the start, but the technology is still brand new and
there’s a lot yet to learn about the best most reliable ways to do
things. Industry participants have to be able to take some risks in
these early days in order to learn enough so that rockets can eventually
be as safe as airplanes took generations of accumulated aviation
experience to get.

Some Points From The Chair Of The House Science Committee

This bill concerns the commercial space flight industry, an industry
that is now of interest only to entrepreneurs and daredevils and should
not be regulated as if it were a commercial airline acting as common

The bill does give FAA unlimited authority to regulate these new
rockets to ensure that they do not harm anyone on the ground and to
ensure that the industry is learning from any failures. The bill also
gives FAA additional authority after 8 years by which time the
industry should be less experimental.

[SAS note – this new compromise provision has caused some confusion –
our understanding is it allows FAA AST to regulate only specific
matters that have caused actual problems for passenger/crew safety for
the first 8 years.]

[Aircraft industry-style “mature technology” regulation] would be the
equivalent of not letting the Wright Brothers test their ideas without
first convincing federal officials that nothing could go wrong.

Space Access Society’s sole purpose is to promote radical reductions
in the cost of reaching space. You may redistribute this Update in
any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety.
You may reproduce sections of this Update beyond obvious “fair use”
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Space Access Society

“Reach low orbit and you’re halfway to anywhere in the Solar System”

– Robert A. Heinlein

SpaceRef staff editor.