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Henry Vanderbilt, of the Space Access Society (who has been following this closely), just left a post at indicating that the launch legislation just passed the Senate (miracle of miracles), at the last possible minute.

While I think that this legislation is flawed, it's better to have it than nothing, in terms of investment, and the flaws can perhaps be fixed in the future.

More when I get more.

[Update a few minutes later]

It's not new info, but I just got an email from Henry to the same effect.

I should note that I claim victory because this is now almost as good as law. It only requires the president's signature, and the White House has never expressed any opposition to this legislation. And if he were to veto it, it would be the first bill that he vetoed since taking office.

It's a done deal.

[Another update at 10:43 PM EST]

Keith Cowing, of NASA Watch, confirms.

[Update on Thursday morning]

Alan Boyle (as usual) has the details. Apparently it rode on some other legislation at the last minute. Kudos to whatever Senate staff tactician managed to pull it off.

Clark Lindsey and Jeff Foust have thoughts and links as well.

2004 continues to be a great, perhaps watershed year for those opening up the high frontier.

Posted by Rand Simberg at December 08, 2004 07:20 PM
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Any idea how long it takes these things to show up in the on-line congressional record? I don't see anything yet on

Posted by Neil Halelamien at December 8, 2004 08:11 PM

A hearty congratulations to all involved in getting the bill through Congress. This is a big victory for those trying to get testing programs licensed.

Now we just have to hope/make sure its enforced in a way that will encourage, or at least allow for, long term commmercialization. There's an eight year window from the regulatory perspective, I hope they make it count. Who knows, maybe the regulatory deadline will spur short term investment?

Posted by Nathan Horsley at December 8, 2004 10:33 PM

Even if this will be a vicarious experience for the majority of us, this is verrrry cool.

Posted by Josh "Hefty" Reiter at December 9, 2004 05:14 AM

Are you 100% sure this is the correct bill this time? That is, no 'poison pill' amendment slipped in at the last moment that nobody noticed?

Posted by George at December 9, 2004 08:19 AM 'poison pill' amendment slipped in at the last moment that nobody noticed?

That wouldn't be possible, fortunately. It had to have passed in the form passed by the House, or not at all, because changes would have required a conference.

Posted by Rand Simberg at December 9, 2004 08:27 AM

Nothing was slipped in at the last moment. The bill as passed is identical to the compromise language worked out between the House and the Senate. There is not ONE WORD in there that nobody noticed. There is no poison pill.


Posted by Randall Clague at December 10, 2004 06:11 PM

That "compromise language" may be bad enough, according to this article:

"some of the new bill's language contains ominous possibilities for squelching this hatchling industry. For example, one clause requires AST to regulate as soon as any unplanned event or series of events during a license or permitted commercial human space flight (occurs) that (poses) a high risk of causing a serious or fatal injury.

If this language had been in force last October, the uncontrolled spins experienced by SpaceShipOne during its first X Prize flight would have forced AST to halt the second flight, thereby preventing Bert Rutan's ship from winning the $10 million award.

Most worrisome about the new law is it seems to shift AST's focus from encouraging the growth of new space industries to making sure they operate safely. As the law states, AST's purpose no longer will be merely to facilitate the growth of the industry, but to promote the continuous improvement of the safety of launch vehicles designed to carry humans, including the issuance of regulations."

BTW, Rep. Oberstar's (D-MN) quote is very telling of his mindset: "I do not think safety regulation is ever silly. I do not think we have ever over-regulated safety."

The scary part is, I am quite sure he is sincere. He really does believe that there is no such thing as too much safety, and that government's job is to ensure safety at all costs.

Posted by Ilya at December 10, 2004 08:51 PM

There is a subtle difference between claiming to have never over-regulated safety and there being no such thing as too much safety. There are people in government who believe there is no such thing as too much safety, but it's not clear that Mr. Oberstar is one of those people.

What Mr. Oberstar wants has some merit, as a concept. He wants AST to have the authority to prevent unsafe activity _before_ it happens. One problem with that is that it would cause AST to stifle innovation in the name of conservatism. But the bigger problem with that approach is that it is presently impossible. What kinds of commercial human space flight are safe, and which kinds are unsafe? To quote Chris Rhea, "the answer is, nobody knows." HR 5382 was written the way it was to allow AST to restrict unsafe pracices, but only unsafe practices, only after they are shown to be unsafe (so that somebody knows), and only for passenger carrying flights.

Most of you will have seen the following paragraphs over on, but I know not how to post a link to a blog comment...

First, nothing in CSLAA, had it been in effect for the X Prize flights, would have forced AST to do anything. It would have allowed AST to do something, if AST determined that the 20+ rolls were "an unplanned event or series of events during a licensed or permitted commercial human space flight that posed a high risk of causing a serious or fatal injury to crew or space flight participants." The rolls were unplanned, yes. But given that Mike zeroed out the rates long before reentry, it's pretty hard to call them a high risk event.

The second point is what the unplanned event, had AST judged it high risk, would have allowed AST to do, if CSLAA had then been in effect. What it would allowed them to do is restrict or prohibit the risky operating practice - for passenger flights *only*. Nothing in CSLAA allows AST to restrict or prohibit design features or operating practices for flights not carrying paying passengers.

So under CSLAA, AST could - if they determined those rolls were high risk, which would be a difficult determination to defend given the demonstrated safe outcome - issue regulations directing an operator of SpaceShipTwo to avoid, while carrying paying passengers, aerodynamic conditions that lead to lots of rolls as he exits the atmosphere. AST could also, if they determined the rolls were high risk, issue regulations requiring Burt to modify the design for SpaceShipTwo so it doesn't do that. So what? He's going to do that anyway. "SpaceShipTwo has got to have better high-Mach directional stability by a bunch," --Burt at the SFF banquet in Long Beach

Nothing in CSLAA is bad. Some of the particulars are in law earlier than we expected them, but we knew we'd see them eventually. It's a pretty good bill. CSLAA may be fairly thought of as the Air Commerce Act for space. The Air Commerce Act was basically the enabling legislation for the nascent commercial human flight industry. It promoted the industry by improving safety. (_Bonfires to Beacons_ {Smithsonian History of Aviation Series} is a marvelous history of the times and events leading to the Air Commerce Act; highly recommended.)

Posted by Randall Clague at December 13, 2004 11:10 AM

Hello it's damn cool - - fresh shots and sounds (!!!) from Titan!

Posted by Lily Quinn at January 15, 2005 10:58 PM

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