There is an industry capturing the imagination of the public and gaining recognition for creating accessible and reliable spaceflight capabilities. Yes, you read that correctly – commercial companies are developing platforms to take science, technology, and humans to space, and are using innovative technologies to make this service affordable and reliable.

Last week, we saw the markup of several commercial space bills in the House, and are expecting the Senate to follow suit this week. Unlike many dividing issues often in the spotlight, the U.S.’s commercial space competiveness has historically been a bi-partisan effort, with both sides of the aisle recognizing the importance of continued development of the sector. The growth of the commercial space industry should be driven primarily through innovation and technology development. These capabilities should not be capped by politics, but rather be encouraged by them. The private and public sector are partners in the success of the industry, but the government must be unified for the advancement of the sector. It is critical that law-makers discourage partisan politics and focus on smart policies that will grow the nation’s space industrial base.

ADVERTISEMENT

The commercial space sector is an emerging high-tech industry that has made significant progress in the past few years in terms of growth in revenue, employees, and capability. Orbital companies such as SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Boeing have begun testing their crew vehicles that will fill the gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability by ferrying astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit. Meanwhile, the U.S. is leading the development of reusable manned suborbital vehicles. Virgin Galactic is currently testing its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, and XCOR Aerospace has begun assembling its Lynx suborbital platform. In addition, Jeff Bezo’s company, Blue Origin, successfully conducted a flight test of its New Shepard crew capsule and system just earlier this month. These and other suborbital platforms are gearing up to offer flights to private individuals, and scientific, industrial and educational payloads to altitudes above 100 kilometers, which is often considered the boundary of space. Each month brings new accomplishments for these companies, and each stride forward builds the robust market for research, space tourism, education, and other applications.

Smart policies have the potential to complement the already-growing commercial space industry, advance our nation’s leadership in space, and create thousands of high-tech jobs in the U.S. These policies are not put in place to shield industry or place any further burden on taxpayers, but rather encourage best practices, create an environment conducive for innovation, and eliminate uncertainty for private-sector investment. Currently, the House and Senate are working on legislation to update the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA), the underlying law that first established the policies to promote the commercial space launch industry. As the industry has grown however, many of the policies have become dated. The bill was last updated in 2004, and over a decade later, is long overdue for a revisit The policies in the CSLA include such provisions as government indemnification, a third-party risk sharing regime in place since 1988, and the extension of the “learning period.” Both provisions come at no expense to the tax-payer but could cost industry its innovative development practices and its competitiveness overseas if taken away.

Initial test flights of crewed suborbital vehicles began in 2013 and regular operational flights are expected in the next few years. Meanwhile, companies have been focusing on the safety of their systems through rigorous testing of their platforms. Additional time and data are required to determine appropriate regulations for the industry and any speculative regulation runs the risk of stunting industry growth. Safety is the industry’s number one priority; Industry is working with the government to ensure an effective and safe ride to space for all. The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation does, in fact, regulate for third-party safety and can regulate in the case of an accident. The industry will continue to look for ways to further collaborate with government on safety issues.

Sound, pragmatic policies are at the core of this successful industry. These policies place the burden on industry to create safe, cost-effective capabilities while allowing the government to retain the oversight needed to protect public safety and tax-payer wallets. No matter what side of the aisle you are on, spaceflight has captured the imagination of many. Commercial space companies are working to move spaceflight out of the realm of imagination into reality. Smart policies can continue the drive for innovation or stunt it, and we call on policy-makers to take the view from a 100km, from the boundaries of space, and work together to push Earth’s economic sphere outward for the benefit of all.

Stallmer is president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.