Blumenauer proposes space tourism tax as burgeoning industry emerges

Politics

Announcement comes as a space race with billionaires touting privatized space travel plays out in the heavens

Jeff Bezos

This combination of 2019 and 2016 file photos shows Jeff Bezos with a model of Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander in Washington, left, and Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo space tourism rocket in Mojave, Calif. The two billionaires are putting everything on the line in July 2021 to ride their own rockets into space. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Mark J. Terrill)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon’s U.S. congressman and a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced Tuesday a proposal to tax space tourism expeditions. 

It’s called the Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act and it would create new excise taxes on commercial space flights carrying human passengers for purposes other than scientific research, according to a prepared statement from the congressman’s office.

“We are watching an explosion of interest in space travel. This last week, we’ve had two billionaires launch into space with some people who’ve come along with them. It’s quite clear that there is a lot of pent-up demand, people who are willing to spend millions of dollars to be space tourists,” Blumenauer told KOIN 6 News.

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 08: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) talks to reporters while announcing the House Democrats’ new infrastructure plan during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol February 8, 2018, in Washington, DC. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the $20 billion in infrastructure spending over two years in the current federal budget deal is ‘a diversionary tactic.’ (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The congressman’s reference to billionaire space launches relates to recent competing expeditions into space by billionaires, including Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, who was launched into space and back on Tuesday. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, also made an expedition in a rocket plane a week ago (Space-X founder and billionaire Elon Musk reportedly already has a ticket on reserve to travel with Branson’s company, according to the Wall Street Journal). 

“On air flights, people pay a tax. It seems entirely appropriate for trips that cost millions of dollars, to be able to have a tax approximate to what would happen if it were an airline,” he added.

Blumenauer said the tax would start somewhere in the 10% rate on a per flight basis, with revenues going toward infrastructure purposes.

The environmental impacts of space tourism are also a concern. In a press release, Blumenauer’s office said that space launches could account for an estimated 60-times greater rate of carbon emissions than transatlantic flights, per-passenger. Researchers are also looking into whether certain rocket engine fuel byproducts may accelerate the depletion of stratospheric ozone, the release said.

KOIN 6 News also asked whether Blumenauer thought the accumulation of space debris around earth’s orbit from space tourism could pose problems in the future. 

“We are seeing a great deal more activity in space. We’re seeing more space debris. People are launching private satellites. And they don’t just disappear magically when they reach the end of their useful life. Space debris is actually a concern, along with how do we manage all of this,” he said.

Blumenauer said he plans to introduce the proposed tax in the form of a bill to the House of Representatives soon and feels there is public support on the issue.

“The reactions I’ve received to this point, from the general public, is very much in support that people with tens of millions or more to spend on this might be able to invest a little in terms of our public infrastructure.”

In terms of how the tax would work, the release from Blumenauer’s office said it would include a per-passenger tax on the price of a commercial flight to space, like that for commercial aviation. Exemptions would be made available for NASA space flights for scientific research purposes. In cases where flights are a mixture of recreational passengers and NASA researchers, the tax would be prorated to apply to only the non-NASA passengers.

In addition, it would also include a two-tiered excise tax for each launch into space. The first tier would apply to flights exceeding 50 miles above the Earth’s surface but not exceeding 80 miles above the Earth’s surface. The second tier, at a significantly higher tax rate, would apply to orbital flights exceeding 80 miles above the earth’s surface.

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