Cruz looks to boost space industry

Cruz looks to boost space industry
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump removes sanctions waivers on countries buying oil from Iran The Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? Buttigieg steals Beto's thunder MORE (R-Texas) at a hearing on Wednesday called for expanding commercial investment in the space industry.

“With our sight set on the heavens, which President Kennedy referred to as ‘the new frontier,’ it is only fitting that the nation born on the last frontier should continue to lead the way in the new frontier," Cruz said at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, which he chairs.

"America must expand commerce and ultimately settlement into space. And we must do it first.”

The panel heard from CEOs from space industry companies, including the chief of Blue Origin, a NASA contractor dealing with payload and flight services.

Cruz questioned the witnesses about regulations that are hampering the commercial space industry.

“The world is much safer with America as the global leader of this planet,” Cruz said.

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“And the world will similarly be safer and stronger if the United States and our ideals of free enterprise and free speech are the driving force of commerce and settlement throughout the galaxy.”

Democrats also expressed support for easing commercial partnerships with NASA.

“Right around the corner, there are exciting new endeavors in space enabled by partnerships with NASA and the entrepreneurs and innovators in the private sector,” said Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonTrump administration renews interest in Florida offshore drilling: report Dem reps say they were denied access to immigrant detention center Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances MORE (D-Fla.).

Nelson is one of the few lawmakers to travel into space, in January 1986 aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.

The federal government opened commercial exploration of space with the passage of the 2015 Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act. The update to U.S. commercial space law allows American citizens to “engage in the commercial exploration and exploitation of ‘space resources.’"

But some experts at the time argued that permitting private companies to engage in space exploration might violate international space law. Occupation and claims of sovereignty over celestial resources are forbidden under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which the U.S. and 104 other countries are party.

The 2015 SPACE Act states that “the United States does not assert sovereignty, or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body.”

Cruz's hearing comes as the space industry experiences a boom. It's estimated to be worth hundreds of billions and growing fast.

Last month, President Trump signed a bill authorizing $19.5 billion in funding for NASA, the first bill of its kind in seven years. In 2010, President Obama pledged $6 billion over five years.

Expansion of the commercial space industry is a risky enterprise, though.

In October 2014, Orbital Sciences — a contractor which NASA paid billions was tasked with launching cargo to the International Space Station. But the company suffered a heavy loss when its Antares rocket exploded just seconds after liftoff with 5,000 pounds of cargo on board.