Florida Senate passes requirements on returning spacecraft parts

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Recovered rocket and spacecraft parts will need to be reported and returned or criminal charges could be filed, under a bill launched toward Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday.

The Senate voted 38-0 to pass a proposal (HB 221) intended to protect aerospace companies that increasingly reuse launch equipment.

In an earlier committee discussion, Senate sponsor Tom Wright, R-New Smyrna Beach, said the bill is aimed at protecting trade secrets of the aerospace industry, noting that boaters have recovered jettisoned capsule parts and attempted to sell the items on eBay.

“This just helps to allow those companies that are here and others that hopefully will be moving here to feel more comfortable that we’re protecting them,” said Wright, whose district includes part of Brevard County, home to major aerospace operations.

The bill would require people to report finding crewed or uncrewed capsules, parachutes and other landing aids and other equipment that had been attached to vehicles during launches, orbits or reentry. Failure to do so would carry a first-degree misdemeanor theft charge, with a penalty of up to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine for a new crime of misappropriation of a spaceflight asset.

The House backed the proposal in a 115-1 vote on April 15.

A Senate staff analysis highlighted a January 2019 report by National Geographic that noted protecting spacecraft parts has become a greater concern.

“Historically, most of a rocket’s discarded parts were left to fall back down to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere. But starting in the 1980s with NASA’s space shuttle, engineers designed rocket parts that could be recovered and reused,” the National Geographic report said. “Private companies including SpaceX and Blue Origin are even building rockets with first stages that return to Earth and land themselves. The more that a rocket’s parts can be reused, the cheaper rocket launches can get.”

The proposal also would direct courts to order people convicted of theft of space-vehicle parts to pay if the equipment was damaged while in their possession.