11 August 1999
Other - Tourism (None)
FAA Lays Out Vision for Space Travel Industry
...Taking Over Leadership from "Space Industry"
by Patrick Collins
In a July 14, 1999, speech to the Washington Space Business Round Table (reported in -Space News_, August 2, p 15) FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation Patricia Grace Smith laid out her vision of converting space transportation "...into a real mode of transportation". By this she means reaching the situation "... when a multitude of entrepreneurs will open space to all kinds of activities: thrill-rides, vacationers, industry and even trips to the Moon and beyond."

In order to do this, she called for a summit conference "...to bring together industry leaders, trade associations and perhaps government to focus on this issue" because the FAA wants "...to see US commercial space activity in all its many possibilities thrive and prosper...and evolve into a part of a seamless system of integrated modes of transportation."

With such support from the FAA, the start of space tourism will be much nearer in the future than is widely appreciated within the space industry. In the form of sub-orbital passenger space flights to an altitude of 100 km and above, these could start within just a few years - and thereafter commercial passenger flights will start just as soon as the legal and regulatory issues are resolved, which the FAA is already working on.

In this context, it is worth remembering that in the past the aviation industry accumulated extensive experience of operating piloted, rocket-powered vehicles: during the 1940s and 1950s several countries' military forces operated Rocket-Assisted-Take-Off ( RATO, or as then commonly known, Jet-Assisted-Take-Off or JATO) aircraft, as well as aircraft powered by both jets and rockets. These vehicles were flown sufficiently frequently to develop routine operation, maintenance and repair procedures for the rocket engines they used; it's said that the South African Air Force reached 60 flights between overhauls of the rocket-engines on their RATO planes. Airlines also used RATO/JATO systems regularly on airliners taking off from airports at high altitude. Thus no fundamental problems are anticipated in developing aviation-type operating procedures, and achieving aviation levels of safety for passenger-carrying rockets.

Overall, the idea of passenger space travel is more readily accepted within aviation than within the space industry, presumably due to its commercial orientation towards the general public.

Under Ms Smith, the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation is bringing the clear, long-term, commercial vision to the development of space tourism that is sorely lacking in the space industry.

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Patrick Collins 11 August 1999
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