A big impediment to private manned space travel is regulatory uncertainty. Potential investors have enough to worry about with the inherent risks of space travel. They’re unlikely to pour lots of money into a project if could also run into regulatory troubles. Backers of a new bill say it will help bring some clarity to the murkiness: A coalition of space policy organizations and aerospace companies today urged the Congress to pass the Commercial Space Act of 2003 (HR 3245) in an expeditious manner. This bill, introduced in the House by a bipartisan group, will clarify and streamline a muddled and uncertain regulatory regime faced by the emerging American suborbital space flight industry. “The suborbital launch industry offers tremendous promise,” said Brian Chase, Executive Director of the National Space Society. “The tourism component alone could be worth billions of dollars per year, and has the real potential to jump-start our stagnant aerospace sector. The United States has the opportunity to be the leader in this exciting market, but without steps like this legislation we may see it move to other countries.” The bill, introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Ralph Hall (D-TX) and Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), directs the Secretary of Transportation to set up an enabling regulatory regime for commercial human space flight, separate from that under which the FAA governs commercial aviation. Most important, the bill confirms the FAA ‘d5s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) as the sole authority to license suborbital launch vehicles, and provides clear guidance that its primary mission is to aid this new industry with reasonable regulation that will help develop suborbital vehicles and companies. This will end the confusion within FAA about which bureau has jurisdiction over these vehicles. Some estimate that private suborbital trips would cost about as much as a high-end cruise, which means that space wouldn’t be the exclusive domain of government astronauts and zillionaire businessmen. So we may still have boy bands in space.
Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.