KIHEI, Hawaii — Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has introduced legislation that would extend a restriction on the Federal Aviation Administration’s ability to regulate commercial human spaceflight safety by another eight years.
McCarthy announced Sept. 21 he has introduced the Space Transformation And Reliability (STAR) Act. The one-page bill would extend what is alternatively called a “learning period” or moratorium on certain safety regulations, set to expire at the end of this month, through September 2031.
“As we look to the century and beyond, the commercial space industry is crucial to advancing U.S. national security and scientific discovery, and I am confident that the STAR Act will help continue to provide this industry with additional time to fly, innovate and grow,” McCarthy said in a statement about the bill.
The regulatory restriction, which limits the ability of the FAA to promulgate regulations regarding the safety of spaceflight participants on board commercial vehicles, was enacted in 2004 and designed to give industry time to build up experience upon which regulations could be based. The restriction was set to expire in 2012 but has been extended several times since then, and is now set to expire Sept. 30.
While it is unlikely that the bill can become law before the end of the month, a temporary expiration of the restriction would have little impact on commercial space activities. FAA officials have said that the end of the restriction would only start a long-term process to enact safety regulations.
“From a practical sense, not much would be changed” if the restriction expires at the end of the month, said Kelvin Coleman, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, in a Sept. 18 interview. “We don’t have a set of drafted regulations all ready in a file cabinet that we can spring on the industry.”
He said the FAA is working to prepare for a time when it can draft safety regulations for spaceflight participants. That included establishing this summer a space-related aerospace rulemaking committee, known as a SpARC, that includes members of industry and academia to begin studies of potential future regulations.
“They’ve just begun some really good work trying to figure out what an appropriate framework ought to look like and what the timing of that should be,” Coleman said.
Developing regulations, he added, will be a long-term process. He noted that streamlined launch licensing regulations, known in the FAA as Part 450, took about two years to develop at what he described a “pretty accelerated” pace.
“Regulations take years to really do, and do right,” he said. “In my view, really to get it right you need somewhere between three to five years.”