Sen Ted Cruz, R-Texas has proven to be a champion for commercial space ever since he took over the Senate Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee after the Republicans won control of the upper legislative body. The language that he included in the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act that allowed commercial companies to retain possession of materials they mine from the moon and asteroids is considered landmark, albeit a little controversial outside the United States. Now he is taking the next step, crafting a new NASA Authorization Bill and more commercial space legislation.

Toward that purpose, Cruz is holding a hearing on April 26 entitled “Reopening the American Frontier: Reducing Regulatory Barriers and Expanding American Free Enterprise in Space.”

The hearing will, “examine the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act signed into law in November 2015, potential regulatory barriers to address in future legislation, and ways to expand commercial opportunities for American firms in space.”

One of the more promising developments of the 21st Century has been the rise of commercial space companies that are seriously doing business. They include high-profile launch firms such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, space mining companies such as Moon Express and Planetary Resources, and other enterprises such as Made in Space and Bigelow Aerospace.

It has become increasingly clear that space is no longer to sole province of national agencies such as NASA or the military.

A little discussed, outside of aerospace circles, question is how to adapt public policy to account for this new reality. How much should NASA cooperate and even outsource its functions to the private sector?

What sort of regulatory regime should be crafted that would encourage rather than stymie commercial space? These and other questions are pressing with a new president contemplating a commercially oriented space program.

The current witness list, by the way, is conspicuous for its lack of government officials. It includes:

  • Robert Bigelow, Founder, Bigelow Aerospace
  • Rob Myerson, President, Blue Origin
  • George Whitesides, CEO, Virgin Galactic
  • Andrew Rush, CEO, Made in Space

The list represents a significant cross-section of the commercial Space Industry, with two launch companies, a firm planning private space stations and lunar bases, and an enterprise planning to use 3D printers to create products in microgravity.

Cruz is going straight to industry to discover what it needs and, at least as of this writing, bypassing government which might be counted to protect its interests not necessarily to the benefit of the commercial space sector.

In any case, sound and carefully considered public policy is the key to ensuring the commercial development of the high frontier of space. Senator Cruz is to be commended for taking the initiative in that regard pending the publication of a space policy by the Trump administration.