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Sat, Mar 24, 2012

FAA Official Predicts Space Tourism Within Two Years

Statement Comes In Testimony Concerning Office Of Commercial Space FY13 Budget

In testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee considering the FY2013 budget for the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, or AST, the Associate Administrator in charge of the office said that he expects space tourism to get underway within the next two years.

"Several companies are currently designing, developing, and testing vehicles that will be capable of carrying people up to the edge of space, with maximum altitudes in excess of 100 kilometers," said Dr. George C. Nield (pictured) in his opening statement. "Based on market studies, we expect to see this type of activity result in a billion dollar industry within the next 10 years."

When asked to be more specific by the panel, the New York Daily News reports that Neild said he thinks first commercial tourism launches are will occur by the end of 2014. "It's hard to predict, but it looks very, very clear it's going to be in the next one or two years" he told the subcommittee.

Mississippi Republican Congressman Steven Palazzo, chair of the subcommittee, was generally complimentary of the AST, pointing out an enviable safety record and praising the work in licencing spaceports and developing COTS missions. But he also alluded to the amount of work that remains to be done. "The recently passed FAA reauthorization bill includes an extension of the regulatory moratorium on commercial human spaceflight systems to October 2015," Palazzo (pictured, below) said. "It is my hope that FAA will use this time to engage with industry stakeholders on its regulatory approach and licensing standards to prepare the path forward for a proposed rulemaking. It is also critical that a delineation of roles and responsibilities among FAA’s various offices be clearly articulated to ensure that industry won’t be hindered by duplicative or ambiguous requirements.

"With these developments in mind, I do have some concerns with NASA’s use of Space Act Agreements inasmuch as they cannot impose safety requirements on program participants. And considering that FAA will not be able to promulgate human spaceflight regulations for several years, I realize that AST has a significant amount of work ahead as it endeavors to align its regulatory approach with evolving industry approaches to safety, all the while having to comply with the moratorium. We will be closely monitoring the collaboration between FAA and NASA in this area to ensure these agencies avoid conflicting or duplicative responsibilities while balancing authority for commercial space operations on NASA missions."

Palazzo said in his opening statement that the FY13 budget includes a two percent increase in funding, which is intended to allow the AST to double its staff in field offices in anticipation of potentially up to 40 launch and reentry operations in 2013.

FMI: http://science.house.gov

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