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« How Should History Treat Clinton's Impeachment? | Main | I Thought I Was Going To Have To Shut Down »

Blogging Without Thinking

Or at least without educating oneself on the subject. Over at this week's Carnival of the Capitalists, the very first post is a libertarian (my guess) whining about government regulation of space tourism. This is always the knee-jerk response of small-government types (of which I'm one) when they're completely unfamiliar with the history of commercial space and space law in general.

The FAA NPRM that Mr. Cohen is so exercised about was not a spontaneous power grab by the federal government, and didn't appear ex nihilo, even if he wasn't following the subject--it was the result of years of discussion with the industry, and a result of a consensus between them and the regulators (though there are a few dissenters, but even they don't want no regulation--they just want a different set of rules and a different part of the FAA to regulate it).

Like it or not, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty obligates the federal government to regulate launches. It will continue to do so until we decide to renegotiate or withdraw from it (good ideas, in my opinion, but unlikely to happen soon). There was never any option for non-regulation--the only question was what form the regs would take. Absent any defined regulations for it, it was impossible to raise money for it (because investors hate uncertainty in general, and regulatory uncertainty in particular), which is why the nascent American space tourism industry fought very hard a couple years ago to get legislation to legally define this new flight regime, and expand the FAA's legal authority to explicitly deal with space passenger launches, in a way that would green light investors and not stifle the industry. So far, it has been quite successful, since the money is now flowing, and no serious player (other than Burt) is complaining about the regulation level. If you look at the comments on the NPRM so far (and ignore the nutty ones), you'll see that they're constructive, and meant to fine tune a good first cut by the agency. So far, they seem to be in keeping with both the letter and intent of the legislation.

Before people let loose with their keyboards on this issue, they might serve their readers better if they review and familiarize themselves a little with the history first.

[Update on Monday evening]

Here's an equally naive, but more optimistic (and realistic) take:

Last week, for probably the first time in my life, I got excited by the prospect of U.S. government bureaucracy. The Federal Aviation Administration took a step toward developing rules for space tourism, issuing more than 120 pages of proposed guidelines for “space flight participants.” The initial set of regulations is set to go into effect in June, and to me it’s a sort of tipping point, cementing the reality that in just a few years any one of us may be able to blast off into the cosmos the same way we can fly Jet Blue to Vegas for the weekend. That’s an awesome thing, in the true sense of the word.

It is. The government is not always evil, and the people who worked on Congressional Hill (against many other staffers and Congressman who were on the wrong side of the issues) and at the FAA deserve big kudos. They understood the issues, and their own potential failings, and I know, from working with and talking to them myself, that many of them share the dream.

When they get things right (which thankfully happens much more often than one would reasonably expect from a big bureaucracy) we should congratulate and thank them.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 09, 2006 07:47 AM
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I use the term "blog creep" where someone starts a blog in one area, then feels that knowledge in that area translates into useful commentary in another.

Posted by Tom at January 9, 2006 08:26 AM

If anyone thinks for a moment that the FAA's proposed space tourism regulations are excessive, they should spend some time reviewing aircraft regulations. You'd destroy any hope of space tourism if you applied the same rules to spacecraft that the FAA applies to aircraft. For example, before an aircraft can carry passengers for hire (with a very few special exceptions, primarily regarding training), the plane must go through a lenghtly and very expensive certification process that includes all components such as the engine and instruments.

The process is so extensive that even a two-seat private plane that is outside the new Sport Aircraft category ends up costing millions to get certified. If they applied the same regulations to Rutan's SpaceShipOne, you'd have to spend millions certificating the hybrid engine, the structure, and the avionics. You'd also have to certificate the White Knight mothership, including the military surplus jet engines. I doubt you could do the job for less than a few hundred million dollars.

However bad the proposed regulations might appear (and the summaries I've read aren't so bad), it could've been far, far worse.

Posted by Larry J at January 9, 2006 12:46 PM

I will never trust the objectivity of any government action regarding private space ventures, not after Uncle Sam killed Beal Aerospace.

Read the monstrous tale here:

Posted by Benjamin Brown at January 9, 2006 04:54 PM

The government didn't kill Beal Aerospace. Andy Beal killed Beal Aerospace, because he was too arrogant to solicit opinions from the people who actually understood the market and pitfalls (and technology) of private space. He thought that because he was rich, he was smarter than us.

He just used the government as an excuse.

[Hint: don't take the history of an aggrieved victim of government oppression as stated on said victim's web site as gospel.]

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 9, 2006 04:59 PM

I heard someone talk who'd consulted with with Beal a bit. Apparently, the idea was to build an Ariane V-class booster at 1% of the development cost. Might have been a bit...overreaching?

Posted by Tom at January 9, 2006 05:38 PM

To be fair to Beal - he wasn't just a rich guy who stumbled into his fortune - he made it by being going against conventional wisdom i.e. by being smarter than .... well if not the rest of 'us'* then being smarter than conventional wisdom.

*whoever 'us' is in this context.

Posted by Brian at January 9, 2006 05:41 PM

Might have been a bit...overreaching?

They did at the least get to the point of test firing the rocket ...

Posted by Brian at January 9, 2006 05:44 PM

To be fair, it's my understanding that for a time NASA did have a semi-official policy of undermining space startups by either subsidizing competitive products or offering the same services (zero-g rides on airplanes and such) for free. On the other hand, it seems that Beale should have anticipated at least some of the nontechnical hurdles they encountered- did they really think that there would be no regulatory hurdles involved in exporting rocket technology to Equatorial Africa for launch? And if not, did they actually talk to anyone who had dealt with those matters before?

Posted by Jeff Dougherty at January 9, 2006 09:35 PM

To be fair, it's my understanding that for a time NASA did have a semi-official policy of undermining space startups by either subsidizing competitive products or offering the same services (zero-g rides on airplanes and such) for free.

It was never policy, official or sem-official--it was just what they did.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 10, 2006 04:47 AM

The OTRAG people (late 70's) possibly could've told Beal plenty about trying to operate out of that region...

Posted by Frank Glover at January 11, 2006 02:29 PM

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