Legislation seeks to “streamline” commercial spaceflight regulations

Just before Congress adjourned earlier this month for summer recess, two members of Congress introduced a bill that they argue will help streamline commercial spaceflight regulations. Congressmen Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Bill Posey (R-FL) introduced HR 3038, the Suborbital and Orbital Advancement and Regulatory Streamlining (SOARS) Act.

“I have seen firsthand how the talented people of East Kern County have grown this industry through technological advancement, and this legislation will help ensure they are not hindered in creating jobs here locally,” said McCarthy, the House Majority Whip whose district includes the Mojave Air and Space Port, in a press release announcing the bill. “Our bill is a big step in streamlining FAA regulations and establishes demonstration projects for space companies supporting launch activities to safely move forward,” added Posey in the same statement.

One element of the bill would allow an experimental permit for a suborbital vehicle to remain valid even after a launch license is issued for that particular vehicle design. Under current law, the permit becomes invalid when a license for the vehicle is issued. That prevents one copy of a vehicle to perform test flights under a permit if another vehicle of the same design is operating under a license.

Another element of the bill would require the FAA to create a “demonstration project” for using experimental aircraft for “the direct and indirect support of commercial space launch and reentry activities.” The FAA would bring into this project no fewer than eight companies, with one at each currently licensed commercial spaceport. (The bill would allow the FAA to redistribute that allocation of companies if there are spaceports looking for more companies and others with none, a likely event as some spaceports are focused on vertical launch.) The demonstration period would run for two years, and the FAA would have the ability to extend it after that for two years at a time.

What would these companies would do with experimental aircraft? The “indirect support” is defined as training, testing, and other preparations for pilots, spaceflight participants, and payloads. The “direct support” element, though, could allow aircraft to support air launches of commercial vehicles—like Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo, the air-launch platform for SpaceShipTwo—under an experimental aircraft designation, rather than as a certified aircraft.

7 comments to Legislation seeks to “streamline” commercial spaceflight regulations

  • Vladislaw

    Under the demonstration part of the bill it states:

    “(2) SCOPE.—
    (A) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary of Transportation shall enroll not less than 8 commercial businesses involved in direct and indirect support of commercial space launch activities, with at least 1 business designated for each Department of Transportation-licensed commercial space launch facility.” ”

    What exactly does this mean … every state that has set up a space launch facility automatically gets one of those businesses?

  • Coastal Ron

    And does funding come with this? Or is it like Commercial Crew and they don’t provide enough money for the FAA to do the anticipated task?

    • BRC

      It’ll likely be like the latter… The irony that shouldn’t be lost here, is that this lovely new requirement comes from the same House of Representatives, whose current draft of FY funding authorization for the FAA’s space office is not merely frozen for another year like in the past (yet telling them work harder to include Comml Crew), but is actually proposed back in June by said House to CUT that budget… by about 12%!!

      This small office has to work their rocket tails off to handle an every increasing mission (and they’re tiny, when compared to its brethren offices in the FAA). They have to multi-task to include all that activity, with all the other Congressionally-mandated actions: facilitate the industry, ensure public safety with timely evaluating, licensing and safety inspecting.
      – AND then they have to do all this for an ever increasing number of launch operators and launches (and more on the horizon).
      – AND to do all that with a budget that hadn’t really changed in years (from what I understand, they were asking for only slight increase for this next FY to help with this bigger load).
      – AND NOW… the HOUSE not only wants them to do all of that, but include this new “STREAMLINING” requirement — while at the same time targeting them for a nasty budget cut?!?!

      SHEEEEESH!!! That sounds like having your gas tank siphoned and then being told you need to travel further then when you had it full.

  • Neil Shipley

    More pork. Trying to spread money around that may be there one day but probably forcing companies to choose facilities. Totally not needed.

  • Nom de plume

    Skeptic here. Given birther Posey’s rabid anti-Obama positions, I doubt he got religion about making it easier for commercial space to do business since their success would validate Obama’s support of it. So what’s their hidden agenda? No mention of increasing FAA’s budget to make anything happen and “streamlining” regulations usually translates into cutting something. Does “demonstration projects … safely move forward” suggests that commercial space is currently unsafe and they must spend much and do much to prove otherwise? Is “Regulatory Streamlining” going to ensure safety?

    Maybe there is something good within the “SOARS” bill, but I bet they spent more time coming up with a catchy title and acronym than on the content of the proposed legislation.

  • vulture4

    Once again Posey wants to claim he is supporting commercial space while spending no taxes on it at all and giving all the bucks to SLS/Orion because it is a “Republican” program. The supposed “streamlining” is trivial smoke and mirrors.

  • James R. Brown

    The Money going to SLS/Orion could be traded with Commercial crew, or instead be spent to the SpaceX supper heavy at over two hundred tons, and to be operated at much less cost.

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