A couple of notes to follow-up on this earlier posting about concerns regarding HR 3752. At the full COMSTAC meeting at FAA Headquarters on Thursday, Pete Worden, the retired Air Force general who is serving as a Congressional fellow in the office of Sen. Sam Brownback, discussed the status of the bill in the Senate. He said there is a lot of interest in it in the Senate, but those most willing to push the bill through are busy working now on NASA authorization legislation, which should be introduced in the next few weeks. He hinted at the concerns regarding what kinds of vehicles the bill covers, adding that one unnamed Senator has raised the issue, but seemed optimistic that those concerns could eventually be worked through.
On Friday I talked with an industry expert familiar with the status of HR 3752. While I had previously noted that the specific concern—that vehicles that “self ferry” under jet power might not be considered a suborbital rocket under the FAA definition—was not new, this source said that the specific concern had actually emerged relatively recently. Even though the definition in the legislation was publicly unveiled at the Space Access ’03 conference in April 2003, and published in the Federal Register six months later, Rocketplane Ltd. didn’t voice their concerns about the definition until February, after the bill had been reported out of the House Science Committee. It has also been difficult for those working to advance the bill to figure out exactly what Rocketplane thinks it needs to resolve the issue. Congressional staff working on the legislation are said to be willing to accommodate Rocketplane on the issue, at least to some degree. The longer it takes to resolve this, this source warned, the less likely the bill will pass this year.