WASHINGTON, D.C. – Commercial human space flight (space tourism) is a burgeoning industry in need of some degree of government regulation and oversight a panel of witnesses told the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee today.  Witnesses varied widely, however, on the extent of regulations and the need for government indemnification of space tourism launches.

Space Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said, “I believe space entrepreneurs provide a beacon of hope for our troubled space transportation industry by introducing innovative concepts. However, bureaucratic red tape simply can’t be allowed to impede the growth of such promising industries.  As Ronald Reagan observed when signing the first Commercial Space Act twenty years ago, ‘we need to cut real red tape to see blue sky.'”

Rohrabacher is the author of legislation currently moving through Congress, H.R. 3245, which seeks to clarify the legislative framework for commercial human space flight.  The bill ensures that commercial launchers – such as those being built by entrepreneurs to take people to the edge of space – would also be regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). 

Subcommittee Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) added, “Today’s witnesses have given us a great deal of food for thought.  The approach we take towards regulation of the emerging commercial human space flight industry will have a big impact both on its future viability and on the safety of the flying public.  We need to get it right, and this hearing is an important first step.”

Much of the debate centered on the indemnification against losses caused by commercial human space flight launches.  The government currently insures non-human launches, and Pamela Meredith, Co-Chair of the Space Law Practice Group, saw no need to draw a distinction between manned and unmanned flights.  “There appears to be no reason to treat a human space flight differently than unmanned flight as far as indemnification of the licensee and its contractors, subcontractors, and customers and the customers’ contractors and subcontractors are concerned,” Meredith said.  She added that indemnifying passengers and crew depended on a larger liability plan for the industry.

Raymond Duffy, Senior Vice President of Willis Inspace, disagreed, arguing, “It would not be appropriate for the government to extend any protection to these people.  If someone is willing to participate in commercial human space flights at this stage of its development then the risk should be dealt with solely between the passenger and the launch provider.”

Witnesses also differed on the appropriate federal office for implementing regulations over the industry.  Michael Kelly, founder of the Kelly Space and Technology Corporation, testified that AST was the correct authority.  “The extent of that regulation, however, should not reach beyond AST’s charter of protecting the lives and property of uninvolved parties.”

Gary Hudson, Chief Executive Officer of HMX, disagreed saying, “AST is not up to the challenge of this development.”  Hudson called for the “disestablishment of AST, and the elimination of the need for US persons to seek ‘launch licenses.'”

Henry Hertzfeld, Senior Research Staff Scientist at the Space Policy Institute Center International Science and Technology Policy at the George Washington University, noted that there is often a conflict between promotion and regulation – roles proposed for FAA.  “I believe the time has come to separate these activities,” Hertzfeld said.  “Promotion of U.S. industry has traditionally been the province of the U.S. Department of Commerce.  If the DOT/FAA is to regulate space without conflict, the promotional activities should be transferred elsewhere.”

  • Testimony of Pamela L. Meredith
  • Testimony of Michael S. Kelly
  • Testimony of Henry R. Hertzfeld Jr.
  • Testimony of Raymond F. Duffy Jr
  • Testimony of Gary Hudson
  • Invited written testimony of James A. M. Muncy
  • Hearing Charter: H.R. 3245 – The Commercial Space Act of 2003