Jeff Foust has a pretty comprehensive story on last week’s announcement, but Michael Listner and I are discussing the regulatory aspects in comments:
Under the Commercial Launch Act, a commercial or private operator must obtain an launch license and reentry license from the FAA. If the FAA decides not to grant either license this mission is going nowhere. Even though this is a non-commercial activity, the wording of the Act will still require a license.
Rand Simberg · 28 minutes ago
Yes, but what would be the basis of denying one?
@ponder68 · 10 minutes ago
During the review process, if the FAA reviews whether that the mission could be adverse to the United States’ national security or international interests. Also, the issue of safety could be an issue as well as environmental considerations is part of the review. An adverse finding any of these or a combination could result in denial of a license.
Rand Simberg · 4 minutes ago
Oh, I understand that. I meant on what rational basis? I can’t see the Pentagon objecting, and the notion that it would be an environmental issue is ludicrous. The only possible safety issue that I could see would be the entry. If there was an objection, I can imagine that the (Obama) State Department might say that it was hurting the feelings of other countries who weren’t as audacious as we are (note that this mission is actually within the budgets of many nations). But I’m not sure how the American people would react to such a position.
I’m going to add something to the book about this. Under current law, the only authority that the federal government would have over such a flight would be the ascent to orbit, where they would issue a launch license for the launch to deliver the hardware and crew to space. They have no jurisdiction over orbital activities, or beyond-LEO activities, other than their responsibilities under Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty and the Liability Convention. This will in fact put the limits of Article VI to the test of just how much supervision by a States Party is required for private actors. The FAA has no statutory authority to regulate the safety of the crew themselves (again, under current law). The only safety issue in which they will be involved is for the launch, and for the potential of damage to uninvolved third parties from the very hot entry.
Which raises a question for the mission planners — how do they plan to dispose of the non-capsule (that is, the expandable) portion of the mission? Do they separate shortly before entry, and let it burn? How much of it will make it to the ground? They can probably do a correction burn after (or perhaps during) the Mars flyby to tweak the final earth entry time and location, but I don’t know by how much.