From: U.S. House of Representatives
Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Thank you for the opportunity to convey an industry perspective on FAA oversight of commercial spaceflight.
Spaceflight operations involving humans, called spaceflight participants, are regulated under a regime based on the participants being informed of the risks, and formally consenting to them. The regulations provide extensive protection of the uninvolved public, protection of property, and safe integration into the National Airspace System.
This informed consent regime ingeniously fosters innovation, technology development and investment by creating a market for tourists, researchers and astronauts to fly in space. This is like other tourism or sporting activities such as sky diving, paragliding and scuba diving, that involve informed consent, wavers and releases. Members of the public have the right and freedom to voluntarily engage in activities where they believe the benefits outweigh the informed risks.
However, unlike skydiving, the regime for human spaceflight operations is temporary. Called the learning period, it is subject to extension by congress, and under certain conditions all or part of this informed consent regime can be ended by the FAA. The idea behind the learning period was that a time will come when the entire commercial human spaceflight industry should be transitioned to a regime in which the safety of a spaceflight participant is regulated.
The informed consent regulatory regime is creating an industry and should not be subject to termination.
At the same time there is a desire and long standing vision to see the commercial space industry evolve into routine operations with the success and safety of the commercial airline industry. I believe that the best solution is for two regulatory regimes to permanently exist in parallel - the existing informed consent regulatory regime or License, and a new Extended License, a regulatory regime that includes spaceflight participant safety.
An Extended License would be required for operations that constitute common carriage under Federal Aviation Regulations. For example, Virgin Galactic would offer regular one-hour service from New York to Sydney under an Extended License.
For services whose destination is space itself, common carriage does not apply and the current License protecting the public, property, and the national airspace is appropriate. Voluntarily garnering an Extended License for such activities would confer a great competitive advantage to operators. It is in the government's interest to maintain our country's leadership in aerospace by creating a stable yet flexible regulatory system. I encourage Congress to take the lead in this area with three actions: First make the informed consent License permanent; Second direct the FAA to develop an Extended License to include participant safety; and Third, make it a high priority for the FAA to seamlessly incorporate routine commercial space operations into the National Airspace System.
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