4 January 2007
Reports - Other (Good)
The Federal Aviation Administration Reports on Space
Space Future's summary
by G B Leatherwood
by G.B. Leatherwood

The 2006 Christmas present from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) arrived on Friday, December 15, in the form of thirty-one pages of discussion and the rules and regulations that will govern private human space flight.

The two strongest features of this long and eagerly awaited rule are:

1) Anyone involved in the fledgling activities of private human space flight does so with full awareness that there is risk and we accept it, and

2), This rule is expected to provide for public safety at the beginning of a new and emerging activity, the results of which are still very much in the future, and therefore unknown.

“Human Space Flight Requirements for Crew and Space Flight Participants; Final Rule” can be viewed or downloaded from the FAA home page, http://www.faa.gov.

It has long been feared that private human space flight would be held to the same standards as the mature private and commercial aircraft industry. These include safety, crew and pilot training--perhaps even experience and certification as test pilots of supersonic aircraft--and rigorous physical examinations for passengers equivalent to those astronauts must pass. The other concern has been that the required documentation will create so much paperwork that no small or even medium-size operator will be able to afford it.

Much to its credit, the FAA did not issue such restrictive and potentially costly rules. In fact, it specifically stated that it will not require such standards. For example, The FAA recognized that simulator training may not even be available for new types and configurations of vehicles, therefore simulator training was only recommended where possible.

Another example relates to medical certification: “The FAA agrees that requiring second-class medical certification for crew members who do not perform safety-critical functions is unnecessary (Federal Register, p. 75620).” Another example is “To avoid overly burdening the industry, and in recognition of the diverse range of vehicles proposed, the FAA does not require an RLV pilot to hold a pilot certificate for a specific category of aircraft or to have a specific instrument rating on that certificate (Ibid., p. 75619).” The rule does, however, require that a pilot or remote operator possess and carry an FAA pilot certificate with an instrument rating, but refrained from requiring specifics.

None of this relieves the providers of human passenger space flight (called “operator” in the Rule) from responsibility for the safety of the public, which is the domain of the FAA, US Department of Transportation (US DOT). Federal agencies have primary responsibility for public safety. Passengers, crew, and ground personnel are part of the “public,” and therefore within the rule-making authority of the agency.

How did this come about? The Final Rule contains a listing of both private industry and government officials who were consulted as required by the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004. The FAA received comments from forty-two entities, including aerospace companies, associations, service providers, individuals and other agencies of the U.S. government.

As a matter of fact, the FAA enlisted the cooperation of the entire spectrum of private human space flight enthusiasts, including the most prominent figures in the business (Blue Origin, Space Dev, and Space Adventures, to name a few). Not only that, but the FAA listened carefully to all the comments and suggestions, agreeing with some, but frequently cautioning against too much regulation so soon.

Of interest is the analysis of the number of anticipated flights within the next five to ten years and the expected cost of implementing the rules. In brief, the FAA expects an “upper bound” of 10,142 launches over ten years and a “lower bound” of 5,081. Expected cost of implementation per flight: upper bound, $270 per mission; lower bound, $274 per mission. FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey states: “…I certify that this rule will not have a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities (Ibid., p. 75630).” The subsequent discussion states: “A substantial number of firms entering the human space flight industry are very small. It is difficult to state how many and which entities will succeed. There are two companies licensed to perform launches with humans on board: Scaled Composites, with about 135 employees, and XCOR, with about 10 employees. Only Scaled Composites has actually launched as of the date of this rule; therefore, the industry currently consists of one company (Ibid., p. 75630).”

But what about the passengers? How are we to be treated? Simply stated, we fly with informed consent. Space flight operators are required to advise prospective passengers that we will be flying in vehicles that have not been certified by the government, that there is significant risk involved that may include injury or death, and that we accept full responsibility, both legal and financial, for our decision. We are to be given full disclosure of any and all accidents and allowed to ask questions for more detailed information. Passengers and crew will be required to agree to hold the Federal government harmless. The legal discussions will undoubtedly continue on this subject; the majority of the Final Rule, Part 440—Financial Responsibility, consumes 11 1/2 pages of the 13-page Rule.

The FAA has laid down the rules. They will be tested, challenged, debated, and changed. In the meantime, “The FAA is easy to deal with. You just ask them what they want and give it to them. I’d rather be bending metal than dealing with suits (Joe Latrell, founder and CEO of Beyond-Earth Enterprises).”
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G B Leatherwood 4 January 2007
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