Federal Aviation Administration

FAA the Last Roadblock For Space Tourism

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Jeff Foust / Wikimedia

An increasing number of average people—non-astronauts—might finally have a shot at viewing the earth from suborbital space. Virgin Galactic wants to begin boarding space tourists SpaceShipTwo as early as 2014. According to CBC News, The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is the last major impediment. It has not presented the suborbital spaceflight company with a commercial operator's license.

According to CBC News "this little document is the final piece of the commercial space travel puzzle that Virgin Galactic began assembling in 2004." It's a critical piece. "Without it, only test-flight personnel like former astronauts and military pilots can fly aboard SpaceShipTwo, the most recent evolution of the company's supersonic craft."

Virgin Galactic sent in a license application to the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation in August of 2013 and expects some sort of a response by February. But the FAA's mouth is shut until then. Optimists are eyeing the approaching deadline. Stephen Attenborough, the commercial director of Virgin Galactic, is "very confident the approval will come within the next few months." But other experts say, don't count on it.

"They don't want to endanger the space-farers or the public, and they can't let the industry get started and then have a Titanic-like scenario that puts an end to it all in the eyes of the public" says Dirk Gibson, an author of several books on space travel told CBC News.

In 2012 the U.S. Congress extended a suspension on regulations. This gave spaceflight companies room to breathe. But it also this means safety rules won't be drawn up until October 2015. Experts are worried that lax safety rules will facilitate an accident, and that if an accident does occur, ongoing interest in commercial flights will dampen.

But demand is pretty high. Already, 700 people have ponied up $250,000 for the experience. Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson is very confident the spaceplane is safe. He and his two adult children plan to board the first flight.

In a November 2013 Reason article, Competitive Enterprise Institute space business consultant Rand Simberg compares uncharted space travel to preceding frontier explorations. "No frontier has ever been explored or opened by making safety the highest priority" he explains. Simberg favors a system based on informed consent. Participants should be allowed "to make their own assessments of danger versus reward, just as they do in other hazardous activities such as sky diving, free diving (which kills a couple percent a year), wing-suiting, and mountain climbing" he argues.

If the FAA doesn't approve the license this time around, Virgin Galactic will persist. Attenborough told CBC News, "Of course, if we fail to get the licence, there will be a reason and we will address that reason and keep moving forward."

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  1. An accident will occur at some point. Thousands of people have been killed in commercial airline accidents over the decades. That hasn’t seemed to have damped the demand. Mount Everest kills people every year. But that doesn’t stop rich thrill seekers from trying to climb it.

    I really don’t see how an accident is going to dampen demand.

  2. Yeah, I’d do this. Was just telling my son I’d like to hit space before I die. The price will come down and demand will rise, just like with every other transportation scheme through time (EXCEPT TRAINS IN THE PRESENT-DAY US – BUT I DIGRESS).

    So, “If the FAA doesn’t approve the license this time around…”, I hope Branson takes Virgin Galactic to another country more interested in private space exploration (and perhaps poking the US in the eye)….Russia or China anyone? Anyone?

    Can’t wait to see this happen!

    1. Although Space Ship 1 goes to “space” it really doesn’t go into space space.

    2. Central America. You probably want to stay close to the equator.

      1. The Europeans have a huge space facility in French Guiana. I am sure they would take some business.

        1. The problem is that they’d want you to ride Arianspace (or at least Airbus) products from there. Which is not a good idea since none of the Arianspace capsules are man-rated, and Airbus and Boeing are in a race to see who can manufacture less airworthy craft.

      2. LEO intercontinental is the future of business travel…i hope.

        Cause I am sick of having to flyu 8 fucking hours to get my Belgian Beer.

  3. Space tourism? I want first dibs at the Jovian monolith-portal!

  4. Oh we can’t have lax safety rules can we? No reasonable human being would EVER venture the thought that strapping into a vehicle powered by a big pile of highly volatile fuel and blasting off into a hostile environment might be dangerous right? I mean, someone might get hurt unknowingly!

    1. Geoffrey Feiger approves this message…

    2. No human ever knowingly takes a risk just for the thrill.

      1. Lots of idiot teenagers would disagree with you on that if they ever bothered to stop and think about it. YOLO!

  5. “Of course, if we fail to get the licence, there will be a reason and we will address that reason and keep moving forward.”

    Since when did they need a reason other than “Fuck you, that’s why”?

  6. then have a Titanic-like scenario that puts an end to it all in the eyes of the public

    This doesn’t even make sense…not just in light of the obvious stupidity of the fact that the Titanic didn’t stop the shipping industry, as others pointed out above. But even more importantly, how is it that the FAA believes that:

    1) It has a responsibility to create a sub-orbital market.
    2) It has more incentive to have initial entrants operate without incidents than the initial entrants themselves.

    It’s just idiotic. The only reason the FAA wants to be involved is so that they can demonstrate their own authority and feel like their input matters.

    1. Its like none of these companies would know it is a bad idea to kill their customers without the FAA there to tell them.

      The reason the FAA wants to be involved is that they honestly think people are so dumb that they won’t worry about safety unless the enlightened FAA is there to make them.

  7. There’s over 200 nations on Earth, if the FAA says no, just find another country. I’m sure there are plenty of places that would love to have rich tourists visit, and spend their money.

  8. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is the last major impediment.

    What the hell does maneuvering a rocket ship in near-vacuum microgravity have to do with aviation? Oh, right. FYTW.

    1. And if the FAA is too much trouble, the companies can just relocate to a country that is more agreeable. I bet some Micronesian Island or Latin American or African country would be happy to hose the commercial space industry.

      1. Unless the logistics of building an industry some place that is both remote and has terrible infrastructure might ruin the profitability of the venture. You also have to add in the risk that your capital might eventually be nationalized.

        1. The way America is headed, is the threat of nationalization any different here?

          By like I said before there are over 200 different countries out there, surely they can find one that has the infrastructure, and location that they require.

        2. Or Australia.

          Or Brazil.

          Or India.

    2. Be glad it’s the FAA. NASA has been cock-blocking private space ventures for years. Note that when SpaceShip One first cleared 50NM the pilots astronaut wings were presented by the FAA, not NASA.

  9. I bet some Micronesian Island or Latin American or African country would be happy to hose the commercial space industry.

    I bet they would be too.

    1. Or host it too.

  10. I have seen where several Hollywood leftists (Leonardo) want to sign up for a flight. One could only hope the flight they are on ends in a fireworks show. BTW Leonardo, what’s the carbon footprint of a space flight?

  11. Why would the same government that banned 100 watt bulbs and put a warning on the top step of all ladders (THIS IS NOT A STEP) agree to tourists in the ionosphere?

  12. Private Space travel won’t really be mainstreamed until a stoned and drunken celebrity crashes their personal space plane into California.

  13. the FAA will claim that they have to manage the airspace, like they do for commercial air flight. A crock, I know.

  14. Experts are worried that lax safety rules will facilitate an accident, and that if an accident does occur, ongoing interest in commercial flights will dampen.

    …and?

    Virgin Atlantic has a bigger reason than anybody to want the safest possible venture into space, and consistently so. Do these expertsh honestly believe that Branson would gamble with the ‘ongoing interest of commercial flights’?

    1. If Virgin’s safety experts were really experts, they’d be working at a federal regulatory agency. That’s where the best and brightest go, while private industry inherits the intellectual dregs.

  15. “Experts are worried that lax oversight will facilitate code that doesn’t run, and that if website won’t work, ongoing interest in Obamacare will dampen.”

    FIFY

  16. Maybe he should have all of Congress go up at once in a ship. then a surprise fuel leak happens and ignites the space craft upon re-entry and the whole thing blows up.

    but only if most of Congress is in it.

    Anyway, this is another industry that Libertopia could dominate… space tourism. No fucks given the FAA’s way.

  17. Who didn’t see this coming?

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