The long arm of the FAA

An article in this week’s issue of Flight International magazine has a provocative headline: “US claims right to set new space tourism regulations globally after treaty examination”. As the opening paragraph summarizes:

US persons or organisations operating suborbital test flights outside the USA will still have to obtain a Federal Aviation Administration permit, according to newly proposed rules. This is because, under existing international treaties, governments are responsible for launches made by their citizens or legal entities beyond their own borders.

Another case of imperialist American hegemony? Hardly. While the Flight International article treats this as something of a revelation, this appears to be simply a continuation of existing policy that requires US operators to obtain launch licenses from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) even if those launches take place outside the US. For example, the HyShot 1 and 2 suborbital launches of an Australian hypersonics experiment required AST licenses even though they took place from Woomera, Australia, because they used a commercially-supplied US rocket, the Terrier-Orion. In addition, the multinational Sea Launch venture, led by a US company, Boeing, performs launches under an AST license even through they use a Ukrainian rocket with a Russian upper stage, launching from a Norwegian-built floating launch platform in international waters. So it’s only natural, under the existing regulatory regime, to extend that policy to cover suborbital space tourism flights.

The article does have a few small items of interest relevant to space tourism: it notes that Space Adventures has yet to approach AST for a launch license for its planned Russian-built suborbital spacecraft. Also, New Mexico’s spaceport license application to AST “has environmental work to complete” and Mojave’s spaceport license will likely need to be renewed prior to SpaceShipTwo operations there.

[Disclosure: my employer does work for AST, but is not involved in the licensing or rulemaking process.]

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