Regulators in Space

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First attempt to regulate space tourism passes the House 402-1–Ron Paul is the charmingly predictable one "no" vote. Dana Rohrabacher, the former traveling libertarian troubadour, can't resist selling it as a national security issue, given his representation of an aerospace-tech heavy Southern California:

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., chairman of the Science Committee's space panel and sponsor of the bill, said encouraging private entrepreneurs to develop new space travel technology would have spinoffs for the Pentagon. "Our great space entrepreneurs," he said, "are going to be developing aerospace technologies that can be put into our national security."

More of the details from the Associated Press story on Space.com:

The House bill, which passed 402-1, gives regulatory authority over human flight to the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

To make it easier for companies to test new types of reusable suborbital rockets, the bill gives the office the authority to issue experimental permits that can be obtained more quickly and with less bureaucracy than licenses.

It also requires the Office of Commercial Space Transportation to come up with regulations for crew pertaining to training and medical conditions. Space tourists would have to be informed of the risks involved in their travel.

The bill also extends for three years an existing law under which commercial space launch companies are required to carry liability insurance, capped at $500 million, with assurances that the government will compensate for losses above that.

NEXT: We Haven't Seen This High a Turnout Since That Chicago Graveyard Voted for Home Rule

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  1. Congratulations to Congress for putting the cart before the horse.

    What will they regulate? Last I looked, there were no hotels in low-earth orbit.

    All this will do is push out the smaller guys and favor the bigger ones.

  2. shanep,

    I thought the “space station” was a hotel. 🙂

  3. This might be a good thing. I think the question over who had what authority where was scaring off a lot of potential investors.

  4. This doesn’t hurt the small guys…provided they can get liability insurance for up to $500,000,000. 500 million is nothing these days – I can loan it to anyone who is finding themselves a bit short this week. I wonder if that insurance would be risk based. I’m pretty sure most space accidents occur in people under age 50, educated, usually male, “white”, and commuting over 10,000 miles one way. I expect the rates to reflect those risk factors, as with auto insurance.

  5. In Madog’s world, investors become less scared, more entrepreneurial — braver frontiersmen all around — when the Feds clarify things with regulation. Nice.

  6. Jean,

    Heheh. The space station is a tin can packing astronauts inside like sardines as it careens across low-earth orbit thousands of miles an hour.

    I wonder if Lewis and Clark waited until the national gov’t created a wall of regs before heading out?

    Lewis: Thanks for clarifying things.

    Clark: That really helps….who needs Sacajawea?

  7. This seems a little off. It’s pretty obvious that there’s going to be regulation of some kind over people who want to shoot rockets into the sky, and making it clear what the regulation is seems like a good idea.

    Besides, the part you excerpted seems to indicate that the goal is to make current regulation less onerous, right?

  8. Kevin,

    Yeah, it’s always the goal of legislation to “make current law easier to understand and focused”.

    Let me know when that happens.

  9. This legislation likely grew out of hearings that were held last December, I think, in which several advocates of private space ventures testified that a lack of certainty of regulations was hurting their ability to get insurance to cover their activities.

    I wish I still had the link to the testimonies–Richard Tumlinson was one of the witnesses, as well as Robert Zubrin of “Mars Direct” fame.

    The purpose of the hearings was actually to determine what direction the nation should take in space. Tumlinson’s testimony advocated using NASA to open frontiers and do cutting edge development, subsequently handing over each phase to private investors, then moving on to the next challenge. Not a bad idea, in my opinion. Too bad the porkers in Congress will never want to let go of an appropriation once NASA has accomplished its mission in an area.

  10. Robert Zubrin’s testimony is still available at http://www.marssociety.org. Its down near the bottom.

  11. JB

    ‘I thought the “space station” was a hotel.’

    It is, but with lousy food and the most expensive bell-hops in the universe.

  12. Hey all,

    As someone who personally knows the people at many of the entrepreneurial startups, I can say that while this bill is far from perfect, it does have the potential to do a lot of good for all parties involved. Jeff Greason, head of XCOR aerospace along with members of the Suborbital Institute (a group representing commercial suborbital RLV developers) were all fairly supportive. By having an experimental waiver like aviation, it will greatly reduce the paperwork and hassle needed to do prototype flights for new space vehicles. Also, by stating that all passengers need is to be informed of the risks, instead of requiring some sort of onerous certification like with airplanes, this also vastly reduces the costs of bringing a commercial launch vehicle to market.

    All in all, most of the heads of private companies involved in space tourism were quite pleased with the legislation. While some of the details are definitely imperfect, and the government can easily botch almost anything, I think this is one of the few bills I would support.

    Just my $.02

    ~Jonathan Goff

  13. I just wanted to take a second to give a little praise to Ron Paul. As difficult as it is to see, he’s the only principled, reasonable, committed congressman that we have. It must take a lot of courage to do what’s right in the face of immense pressure and popular opinion that dictates otherwise. Kudos.

  14. Ditto, Matthew.

    Ron Paul rocks the free world.

  15. As one of the people lobbying for this bill, I can say Jon Goff is completely correct. This bill removes a great deal of uncertainty from the regulatory environment, and it puts launch vehicle regulation in the hands of people who want to see a dynamic and growing industry. It’s a good thing.

  16. To the person who said Lewis and Clark didn’t wait for regulators to clear the way for their expedition:

    If I recall correctly, L&C were chartered by the US gov’t to explore the Louisiana Purchase. Probably not the best example. Not that I’m defending regulation or suggesting that exploration required gov’t assistance, but maybe that wasn’t the best example to make a point.

  17. This bill is a good thing. In this case, having a well defined regulatory regime is necessary.

    A good analogy would be the homebuilt aircraft industry. Setting up defined rules for experimental aircraft has allowed volume manufacturers to enter the market. They have guidelines to follow to make sure their kits meet the criterion for experimental aircraft. And if you look at the regulations surrounding homebuilt aircraft, you’ll find that they give a surprisingly large amount of autonomy to the builders and flyers of these craft. They aren’t that odious at all. If a similar model is followed here, I don’t see it being much of a burden.

    Absent such regulations, you would have to rely on ad-hoc approvals, and anyone who has tried to drive one of those through a government bureaucracy and its ass-covering tendencies can tell you what that’s like.

    Without something like this, no one would even know beforehand whether a launch license would be granted for a specific rocket until it was ready to go. How are you going to raise investment for that?

    Like it or not, regulation is required in this area. Rockets are launched through commercial airspace. NORAD and other defense agencies have to know about the launch, as do FAA area control centers.

    If you can’t have your ideal world of no regulation, the next best alternative is to have well-defined, sensible regulations that can be applied uniformly and predictably.

  18. Dan, you might be right about regulation. Now. But your argument is still one of convenience (and government subsidized convenience, I might add). In due time, it will become a protection racket as every single regulatory practice has become.

    In short, why should I have to pay for someone else’s business?

  19. “Without something like this, no one would even know beforehand whether a launch license would be granted for a specific rocket until it was ready to go. How are you going to raise investment for that?”

    I dunno, but that’s how drugs and health care work (or don’t work).

  20. “And if you look at the regulations surrounding homebuilt aircraft, you’ll find that they give a surprisingly large amount of autonomy to the builders and flyers of these craft. They aren’t that odious at all. If a similar model is followed here, I don’t see it being much of a burden.”

    The content and language of this quote are damning. Regulations don’t give autonomy, they take it, by definition. That language indicates an assumption that all “freedoms” belong to the government, and any they choose to bestow upon their lucky subjects should be celebrated. The rest of this is purely a subjective set of statements, and I would wager money that if one looked hard enough, one could find someone that disagreed. I don’t know those laws at all, so I can’t speak directly to that, but it’s the right of the one person who does feel that the law is odious and a burden that has to be considered.

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