FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation George Nield announced today the agency has awarded a spaceport license to Midland International Airport, paving the way for XCOR Aerospace to move its research and development operations there next year.
Nield made the announcement this morning at the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) meeting in Washington, D.C. Midland Airport Director Marvin Esterly was present to receive the license.
XCOR signed an agreement to move to Midland from Mojave, Calif., in July 2012. That move was contingent upon the Midland airport receiving a spaceport license that will allow XCOR to fly its Lynx suborbital spacecraft.
XCOR plans to move to Midland next year after conducting initial flight tests in Mojave.
Looks like the honeymoon between the FAA and the nascent commercial space industry is coming to an end. Or at least the moratorium on government regulation.
George Nield, who heads up the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, said earlier this week in Washington that he is against extending the “learning period” for commercial human spaceflight when it expires in 2015.
During that period, the FAA is generally restrained from rule making to allow the commercial spaceflight industry to experiment with different designs and systems for getting into space. However, the FAA can act if there is an accident or a close call.
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.
Last month, the FAA issued a waiver to Scaled Composites on the experimental permit that allows the company to conduct powered flight tests of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.
The waiver was necessary because when Scaled applied to renew its one-year experimental permit in March, the company did not full meet requirements for identifying how it would deal with all potential hazards caused by powered test flights from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
ZERO-G PR – Vienna, Va. – May 27, 2011 – Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G) announced today that the company had received a Safety Approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation George Nield testified today about the agency’s proposed FY 2012 budget before the House Committee on Science’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. Key highlights from his prepared statement include:
$26.6 million overall budget for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation
103 full-time employees
$1.2 million and 14 full-time positions “to develop and implement additional safety processes and requirements specifically for commercial human spaceflight and the FAA’s efforts to improve spaceflight safety”
$5 million and 50 positions for a new Commercial Spaceflight Technical Center to be located at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida
$5 million for the Low-Cost Access to Space Incentive to award to “the first non-governmental team to develop and demonstrate the capability to launch a 1-kilogram cubesat to orbit using a partially reusable launch system.”
Dr. David Livingston welcomes the following guests to The Space Show this week….
1. Monday, August 24, 2009; 2-3:30 PM PDT: We welcome back Greg Meholic to talk about advanced propulsion.
2. Tuesday, August 25, 2009, 7-8:30 PM PDT: OPEN LINES. In addition, if you think you would like to be a guest on a future Space Show program, call and tell us why. All topics are welcome for discussion. ”
3. Friday, August 28, 2009, 9:30-11:30 AM PDT : We welcome back Leik Myrabo regarding his new book published by Apogee, “Lightcraft Flight Handbook; LTI- 20. I have one book to give away to the listener first calling in with a question.
4. Sunday, August 30, 2009, 12-1:30 PM PDT: We welcome back Dr. George Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the FAA. We will be discussing the AST and more.
MSNBC’s Alan Boyle has a Q&A with George Nield, the Federal Aviation Administration’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation.
“I think within the next three to five years we are going to see multiple companies carrying ticket-buying passengers up to the edge of space, so they can experience the blackness of the sky and see the curvature of the earth and experience the thrill of weightlessness. Thatâ€™s going to mean hundreds of launches and thousands of people every year who are now going to be able to have that experience of going to space. Thatâ€™s really going to change how we think about space….
“What thatâ€™s going to mean is, after the shuttle retires in 2010, and until we start seeing the human flights of Ares 1 and Orion in 2015 or so, the U.S. government is not going to have any vehicles that they own or operate that carry people into space. But itâ€™s likely to be a very busy time for commercial human spaceflight, both suborbital and orbital. And that means itâ€™s going to be a busy time for the FAA, because those flights are going to be licensed by our office. So weâ€™re going to be right in the thick of that.”
Almost exactly one year after a fatal explosion that claimed the lives of three Scaled Composites workers, Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn has made an extraordinary safety claim about the as-yet-unflown SpaceShipTwo vehicle during an interview with The Independent.
“Q: New technology involves risk, space travel most certainly does. How can you manage the dangers?
WW: We’re trying to take the riskiest things out of the equation. Ground-based rocketry involves firing a massive explosion under somebody to leave the planet â€“ we’ve eliminated that. So you’re launching in a very safe environment. We’ve hopefully eliminated some of the risks of re-entry, which is another of the most dangerous aspects.
We believe that this will be thousands of times safer than any previous human flights into space.”
The claim came during the same week that George Nield, head of the FAA unit that regulates commercial human space flight, warned space tourism companies to get serious about the risks faced by their wealthy clients.