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« He's Alive! | Main | Lunch Break »

Regulatory Panel Discussion

Following the speakers' presentations, there is now a panel discussion on regulations, consisting of the people who will be affected by them--Chuck Lauer from Rocketplane, Jeff Greason of XCOR, John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace, and John Powell of JP Aerospace.

Chuck is describing the surprise when the bill passed late last year, and is excited by the prospects. "Right thing at right time" and AST seems to take it seriously and recognizes the importance of doing it right. "We're the first, please be gentle with us." Rocketplane's schedule corresponds very closely with their rulemaking schedule (which was what happened to Burt). They plan to fly next year, and are working closely with AST. They are getting good feedback, and think that it's a good collaborative process.

Greason: How many are in the launch business? How many actually respond to NPRMs? Those are the people are are really in the launch business.

"If this is like farming, last year was harvesting a great crop." "Now we're tilling and weeding and prepping, and the regulatory process never stops." Message is to get involved. Regulations aren't perfect, but are incredibly close to it compared to what they could have been. "Overall approach and architecture of regulations looks excellent."

Carmack: Haven't interacted this much this year because no race for the X-Prize, and vehicle has changed significantly. Much of testing can still be done under amateur rules. XCOR has a much easier time because he can test on premises in Mojave, whereas they have to travel all the way to New Mexico to do flight test. Still not comfortable with dealing with frustrating aspects of simply having to get permission for a smaller engine, burning slower. Want to get permission to operate closer to Dallas. In general AST people easy to work with, and Armadillo recognizes that many of the issus (e.g., environmental impact) aren't within their power to ameliorate. Still need a licensed spaceport for vertical-launched vehicles. Thinking about launching and landing from a barge, and are planning to participate in X-Prize Cup activities in New Mexico.

John Powell: "In an unusual position with respect to AST--has read the rules, and he likes them, and isn't quite sure how to handle that." Rules are "shoulds" rather than "shalls," which gives necessary flexibility at this stage of the game. Need to keep an eye on the words as the rules evolve, to keep them from becoming too prescriptive too early.

Lauer points out that Melchior Antunano at the FAA has provided a lot of good guidance as to potential medical protocols, and that Rocketplane has been getting good support from his people (he surmises that Antunano wants to fly himself). Greason says that the medical guidelines are the most detailed of all of them, and the approach is good, but is concerned that they're looking beyond suborbital flight to orbital flight, and this is probably premature because we're not that smart yet, and he's concerned that some of the orbital thinking has crept back into suborbital. Need to recognize that the flight regimes are a continuum, no clear distinction between medical requirements for 3 gees and 3.1.

In response to question about vertical spaceports, it's pointed out that space traffic and air traffic are currently poorly integrated. This needs to be fixed.

Mitchell Burnside Clapp points out Burt's differences with many of us in the room, and that he's built many more spaceplanes than many of us. Does the panel want to comment. Powell points out that certification regime is wonderful in theory, but it's not here yet, and (Greason points out) it's probably premature to have it now. Greason: "Fly at own risk" won't last forever, and we all understand that. Most agree on level of safety necessary for viable industry. Mitchell interrupts to point out Burt's research into early aviation safety (one in thirty-three thousand). It turns out to be the same as the current FAA numbers for uninvolved public. Question is whether to solve on consequence-based process (current approach) or probability-based process.

Greason points out that reusable vehicles drive reliability for business reasons, regardless of regulations or license requirements. Question is whether level of safety will evolve out of evolutionary design process, or safety mandates by federal government. Doesn't think we're smart enough for latter yet.

Lauer notes that in the future, if we're doing suborbital flights for intercontinental transportation, the license/certification argument will become moot, because those vehicles will have to be integrated into the existing internationalair regulations.

Jeff says that we have to find the things we agree on, and push those as a united front. John Powell points out that there's a new issue on UAV airspace, which has become extremely contentious. We have an opportunity right now to form things properly before some of the new airspace regimes come in, not to mention insurance companies and other stakeholders as the process evolves.

Criticism of AST that the regulatory process is too set in stone, with too much inertia, and cautions that we don't want to have happen what happened to the ELV people, who got a set of rules that seemed designed to put them out of business, and had to work very hard and spend a lot of money to fix it. Important to get things going in the right direction early (i.e, now).

"Can't get a categorical exclusion for environmental protection act until we have a category, and can't get a category until there are multiple things to put in it." A catex for this isn't in the cards immediately, and it would be a very difficult thing to do politically.

Posted by Rand Simberg at April 29, 2005 11:42 AM
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I know this was probably covered already somewhere and I forgot the answer... but what happened to the people who wanted to use the airfield at Burns Flat as a spaceport?

Posted by Phil Fraering at April 29, 2005 02:23 PM

Which ones? OSIDA is a going concern, Rocketplane has offices and shops at Burns Flat, and both they and TGV plan to fly out of there.


Posted by Randall Clague at May 2, 2005 09:12 PM

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