Spacecraft debris bill rockets through House committee
Photo courtesy of NASA.

SpaceX Demo-2 Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule
Space parts falling in your yard? Give it back.

Republican Rep. Tyler Sirois‘ bill to make sure spacecraft parts that fall to Earth are recovered and returned to rocket companies flew through its second committee Thursday.

The Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee voted 16-0 on HB 221, which requires people in Florida to report any spacecraft parts they might come across and allows rocket companies to go onto private property to retrieve them.

The approval of the substitute bill — the original version won unanimous approval in the Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee last week — came in about four minutes of deliberation, with no questions, no public comment, no debate, and little discussion. Committee members seemed ready to accept that rocket companies should be entitled to their rocket parts, wherever they come down.

There are two scenarios offered by Sirois of Merritt Island. First, increasingly, commercial rocket companies like SpaceX are making more of their stages, and parts such as hatches and parachutes, reusable. They’re meant to come back, yet some of them could drift onto private property or to where scavengers might get to them first.

Second, the tragic disasters of space shuttle Challenger in 1986 and space shuttle Columbia in 2003 scattered thousands of pieces across hundreds of square miles. Such debris should not become someone’s memento or show up for sale on eBay, Sirois advised.

“As Florida continues to lead the nation in commercial aerospace, our laws need to evolve with the growing and unique demands of this industry,’ Sirois said. “Recovery of space flight debris is an increasingly common issue in Florida. This debris is analyzed to evaluate vehicle safety and performance. Current trends in the industry are based on the concept of reusability. This concept means various components or assets of the space industry, used during both launch and reentry, can be reused.”

Apparently, however, concerns are arising about what happens to the private property owner where debris property lands. The bill advises that someone who finds something that is “reasonabily identifiable as a space flight asset” should report it to law enforcement. Failure to do so or attempts to possess or sell the item could result in theft charges, including felony grand theft.

But property owners have rights too.

“Once authorized by law enforcement and/or the property owner, the company may enter the private property to recover the space flight asset,” Sirois said. “I am working with stakeholders to make clear there is nothing in this subsection to limit liability protections of private property.”

The next stop for HB 221 is the Judiciary Committee.

The companion legislation, Republican Sen. Tom Wright’s SB 936, won approval in its first committee last week.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected]


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