Several pieces of legislation affecting commercial spaceflight are on the docket of the Texas legislature this session.
House Bill 417, “An Act Relating to the Composition of the Aviation Advisory Committee,” is sponsored by Rep. John Davis (R-Houston), whose district includes NASA’s Johnson Space Center. (The proposed Ellington Spaceport would also be in his district.) This bill would require the Texas Transportation Commission to appoint one member from the commercial spaceflight industry to its aviation advisory committee.
House Bill 545, “An Act Relating to the Authority of a Municipality to Authorize the Creation of a Spaceport Development Corporation,” is sponsored by Rep. John Davis, Rep. René Oliveira (D -Brownsville ), Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland), and Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson (R-Waco). This bill would a authorize a county, municipality, or any combination to create a spaceport development authority and appoint directors.
Senate Bill 1144, “An Act Relating to the Appointment and Removal of Directors of a Spaceport Development Corporation,” is sponsored by Senator Eddie Lucido (D-Brownsville). The bill authorizes the governing body of a county or municipality which creates a spaceport development corporation to appoint directors and remove directors without cause.
Senate Bill 267 and House Bill 278, both entitled “An Act Relating to the Liability of a Municipality for Certain Space Flight Activities,” are sponsored by Senator Kelton Gray Seliger (R-Amarillo), Rep. John Davis, and Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland). These bills would clarify that municipal liability for airport operations includes airport operations related to spaceflight. The bills also specify that a municipality has no vicarious liability due to participation in a joint venture that involves the use of municipal airport for spaceflight activities.
House Bill 2531, “An Act Relating to the Use of Money in the Spaceport Trust Fund for Educational Programs Related to the Aerospace Industry,” is sponsored by Rep. John Davis. This bill would allow money in the spaceport trust fund to be used for educational programs including science, technology, education, and math courses designed to introduce middle-school and high-school students to the aerospace industry and science and technology competitions including science fairs and robotic competitions.
House Bill 2623, “An Act Relating to the Authority of Certain Counties and the General Land Office to Temporarily Close a Beach or a Beach Access Point,” is sponsored by Rep. René Oliveira. The bill authorizes the closing of Gulf beaches spaceflight activities at FAA-approved launch cities. According to the Valley Morning Star, this is intended to apply primarily to Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville, which is the area where SpaceX hopes to build a launch site. SpaceX would have to submit a primary launch date and backup launch date for the beach closing to the county commissioners court. The primary launch date could not be on Memorial Day weekend, on July 4, on Labor Day, or on any weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day without additional approval from the General Land Office.
(That probably means no SpaceX launches on July 4, which is pity because rockets on the Fourth of July are traditional. Fortunately, Texas Independence Day on March 2 is available.)
The most significant bill is probably House Bill 1791, “An Act Relating to the Facilitation and Operations of Space Flight Activities in This State,” is sponsored by Rep. John Davis. This bill would extend and modify the Limited Liability for Space Flight Activities passed by the legislature last term.
HB 1791 would expand the definition of “space flight activities” to include research, development, testing, or manufacture of launch vehicles, reentry vehicles, spacecraft, and their components. Component manufacturers would be added to the definitions for preparation and postlanding recovery of vehicles.
The definition of “spaceflight entity” would be expanded to include advisers and the owners or lessors of real property on which spaceflight activities take place. Currently, the definition is limited to employees, officers, directors, owners, stockholders, members, managers, partners, manufacturers, and suppliers.
The definition of “spaceflight participant injury” would be expanded to include disability. Currently, it includes bodily injury, emotional distress, death, property damage, and other loss arising from space flight participation.
“Crew” would be defined, for the first time: as humans who perform activities related to the launch, reentry, or other operation of a spacecraft, launch vehicle, or reentry vehicle, or operations in a spacecraft, launch vehicle, or reentry vehicle.
The new bill would also limit nuisance suits against spaceflight entities by third parties and modify the state penal code to make it clear that noise arising from spaceflight activities does not constitute “unreasonable noise.” The current law limits liability for spaceflight participants but does not address third-party nuisance suits.