Government regulation of commercial spaceflight could come sooner rather than later, if the FAA’s chief regulator of the industry gets his way.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), under reauthorization legislation signed in February 2012, is barred from writing detailed safety regulations for commercial human spaceflight until October 2015, unless there is a serious accident in the industry before then.
The Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (Comstac), an industry-led group that advises AST, wants more time. The group recommended last year that AST delay rulemaking until eight years after the first licensed U.S. commercial human spaceflight.
But AST Associate Administrator George Nield thinks that is too long to wait.
“The U.S. has over 50 years of experience in human spaceflight,” Nield said here at a hearing of the House Science space subcommittee. “It’s true that none of those carried a spaceflight participant who actually bought a ticket, but as far as I’m concerned, the design and the operation of those vehicles really were independent of who was riding on board.”
To back up his case, Nield recounted a quick history of U.S. crewed missions, from the experimental X-15 rocketplane that took the first U.S. astronauts on parabolic flights to the edge of space through the decades-long space shuttle program that ended in July 2011 after 135 missions.
Nield made his comments during a House Subcommittee on Space hearing earlier this week that examined possible changes to the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act.
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