European Suborbital Regs Prompt Concern in the U.S.

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The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee on May 11 adopted a resolution calling on the international community to follow the FAA’s lead in regulating suborbital space transportation.

The FAA advisory committee’s action was spurred by concerns that the European Aviation Safety Agency will likely unveil a plan this summer that would certify winged suborbital vehicles in the same manner as aircraft.

“That is obviously inconsistent with U.S. licensing” requirements, Bretton Alexander, the outgoing president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said during a May 11 public meeting held by the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee(COMSTAC) in Washington. “Many in U.S. industry have long opposed this vigorously.”

Reusable suborbital rockets are regulated in the United States by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which has the authority to issue experimental permits — rather than harder-to-obtain licenses — for the launch and reentry of a suborbital vehicle.

The COMSTAC resolution says, “The adoption of regulations worldwide that are consistent to the U.S. approach is important to the long-term success of the industry.”

“Aircraft-like certification of winged [suborbital space transportation] vehicles is premature and could be detrimental to the early development of the suborbital space transportation community,” the resolution also states.

Alexander also said that the FAA briefed committee members on a plan to work in conjunction with the International Space University on possible development of a transponder that would enhance safety for commercial space vehicles. The committee is seeking input from commercial providers, Alexander said, with an International Space University study taking place in Florida sometime next year.