Now that the commercial spaceflight industry has been granted a temporary extension of its grace period on regulation by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it should consider how it will establish the crucial standards that will guide it in the coming years — especially in relation to human spaceflight.
The industry has a golden opportunity to embrace the FAA and strengthen its dialogue on future oversight policy and safety standards. This increased dialogue can help shape a regulatory regime that must ultimately get into place if there is going to be a viable commercial space industry in the United States that truly supports safety.
Today, there is a real danger that this opportunity may be missed, and that industry will fail to take a decisive hand in shaping its own destiny.
There are many who believe that industry should be left alone during this period, without any movement toward creation of an FAA oversight regime until this market sector reaches a greater level of maturity. This is certainly due to the perception of big government’s penchant for creating regulation and processes that may delay or place new restraints on the incredible progress that commercial human spaceflight companies have made thus far. Granted, a commercial business model thrives with less regulation and lean, efficient processes. The challenge, then — and therefore the opportunity — will lie in developing a considered and measured approach to the inevitable and necessary standards, policies and technologies to assure this nascent industry can mature quickly, effectively and safely.
We are so close to realizing the full potential of a commercial spaceflight program that will ensure the U.S. retains its leadership role in space — and having the appropriate checks and balances in that program is critical. If the requisite standards are not in place or collaboratively being developed during this period of maturation — and if an accident occurs — I fear this new industry will buckle under the crushing overreaction and the inevitable backlash.
For this reason, it is imperative that industry embrace FAA involvement now in shaping new standards for commercial spaceflight. When it comes to the safety of human lives in this evolving industry, it is critical to have early FAA involvement, especially by those who have been champions for this industry, but know well the collective responsibility of assuring the safety of launch vehicles and the human lives they carry.
Frank DiBello is the president of Space Florida, the state of Florida’s aerospace economic development agency. For more information, visit www.spaceflorida.gov.