February 04, 2014
An ongoing lag in the start of commercial human spaceflight has the head of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation and the industry advisors who guide him at odds over when to start setting safety regulations for space tourism, research missions and other commercial flights.
Testifying before the House Science space subcommittee Feb. 4, Associate Administrator George Nield disagreed with the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (Comstac) that the original eight-year “regulatory learning period” that expired in 2012 should be restarted once commercial human spaceflight begins, possibly as early as this year.
Congress has extended the learning-period moratorium on safety regulations until Oct. 1, 2015, but Comstac wants it to run another eight years beyond the first missions so the FAA commercial space office will be able to back up its regulations with real flight experience.
“The X-15 was making rocket-powered suborbital flights back in 1962,” Nield testified at a hearing on “necessary changes to the Commercial Space Launch Act” that set up his office in 1984. “The space shuttle — 135 flights over 30 years; now 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 operation of those vehicles really were independent of who was riding on board. We had lots of lessons learned, data, problems solved, challenges over time during that 50 years, and for us to just put that aside and say, ‘Let’s start over,’ without taking advantage of what we’ve learned, I think, is irresponsible.”