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FAA is proposing new rules specifically relating to crew and passengers on commercial space flights

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Mon Jan 9, 2006 7:38 pm
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Federal Aviation AdministrationFAA is proposing new rules specifically relating to crew and passengers on commercial space flights. Proposed rules focus on encouraging, facilitating, and promoting space tourism in a way that continuously improves safety.

Proposed Rules:


The United States’ space program has three sectors — civilian, military and commercial. The commercial sector was created in 1984 with the passage of the Commercial Space Launch Act. From this law, responsibility for licensing, regulating and promoting the private sector space industry was given to the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), which was originally an office within the Office of the Secretary of Transportation (DOT). Today, the office is one of the lines of business within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The 1984 law requires U.S. citizens to obtain a license prior to conducting the launch of a rocket. The only exception is for missions conducted by and for the government (such as NASA or the U.S. Air Force). Over the last 20 years, AST has issued licenses for over 170 launches and has also licensed the operation of five “spaceports” throughout the country to conduct commercial space launches. There have never been any public casualties or significant property damage associated with these launches.

The mission of AST is:

“To ensure the protection of the public, property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States during commercial launch and reentry activities, and to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial space transportation.”

The Dawn of a New Era – Commercial Human Space Flight

A recent space tourism industry study included a poll of affluent Americans. Results of the survey found that space tourism could generate more than $1 billion per year in revenues by 2021. The study also found that suborbital flights will constitute the biggest share of this emerging market, with the potential for 15,000 passengers and $700 million in revenues per year. Orbital flights were found to possibly include up to 60 passengers and generate $300 million per year.

The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 has put the regulatory framework in place for commercial human space flight. The law puts Congress and the administration on record as supporting the development of this private sector effort. The law establishes an “informed consent” regime for carrying space flight participants (passengers), and creates a new experimental launch permit for test and development of reusable suborbital launch vehicles. To implement the law, the proposed regulations were published in the Federal Register in December 2005 and are expected to receive final approval by the summer of 2006.

The 2004 law has challenged the FAA to “encourage, facilitate, and promote” this new activity in a way that continuously improves safety.

Significant Milestones in Commercial Human Space Flight

  • April 1, 2004 – AST issues the first launch license for a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) to Scaled Composites.
  • April 8, 2004 – Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne RLV completes the first private sector human commercial rocket launch.
  • April 23, 2004 – AST issues the second RLV launch license to XCOR Aerospace.
  • June 17, 2004 – AST issues the first license for an inland Spaceport to Mojave, Calif.
  • June 21, 2004 – AST awards Mike Melvill the first commercial astronaut wings for his successful flight of SpaceShipOne.
  • October 4, 2004 – The XPrize, an international competition established to award private industry a $10 million award for completing two successful commercial human space flights in the span of two weeks, is awarded to Scaled Composites for its successful flights of SpaceShipOne. Brian Binnie, the pilot of the vehicle, is awarded FAA’s second set of commercial astronaut wings.
  • February 17, 2005 – FAA publicly unveiled the first written guidelines that incorporate the need for redundant systems and training focused on the pilot and flight crew of the RLV who are responsible the vehicle’s safe flight. In addition, guidelines are made available for passengers, based on “informed consent” and focus on ensuring that those traveling into space are adequately informed of the risks and the safety record of the space vehicles.
  • May 25, 2005 – FAA briefed to its Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) the new guidelines for obtaining experimental launch permits. Guidelines were publicly released the same day. Modeled on experimental airworthiness certificates used in aviation, the permits will allow vehicle developers the opportunity to experiment and test their vehicles prior to applying for an FAA launch license.
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