Italy Now Courting U.S. Suborbital Firms

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WASHINGTON — As part of a push to attract U.S. suborbital space firms to tourism-friendly Italy, the Italian Civil Aviation Authority, or ENAC, is setting up a regulatory framework for suborbital spaceflights and looking for an airport to host them, an Italian official said Sept. 16.

“We believe that Italy is the perfect place in Europe for commercial suborbital flight because of its location, the tourist attraction,” Benedetto Marasà, ENAC’s deputy director general, said in a presentation to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee in Washington.

Marasà told the FAA-chartered group that Italy is most interested in U.S. companies, such as New Mexico’s Virgin Galactic or Mojave, California-based XCOR.

First, however, Italy needs to set down a framework for regulating the crewed and suborbital spaceflights those companies plan to offer, he said. “We will start late this year, the beginning of next year, to develop an FAA-like licensing system,” Marasà said.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation licenses and regulates U.S. commercial launch and spaceflight industry.

Marasà said the Italian rulemaking process probably would not be complete until 2017 or later. At the same time, ENAC is looking for airports that could comfortably host suborbital spacecraft, he said. There are four candidates so far, including coastal airports near the Tyrrhenian Sea and Ionian Sea, Marasà said.