Transterrestrial Musings  

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay

Alan Boyle (MSNBC)
Space Politics (Jeff Foust)
Space Transport News (Clark Lindsey)
NASA Watch
NASA Space Flight
Hobby Space
A Voyage To Arcturus (Jay Manifold)
Dispatches From The Final Frontier (Michael Belfiore)
Personal Spaceflight (Jeff Foust)
Mars Blog
The Flame Trench (Florida Today)
Space Cynic
Rocket Forge (Michael Mealing)
COTS Watch (Michael Mealing)
Curmudgeon's Corner (Mark Whittington)
Selenian Boondocks
Tales of the Heliosphere
Out Of The Cradle
Space For Commerce (Brian Dunbar)
True Anomaly
Kevin Parkin
The Speculist (Phil Bowermaster)
Spacecraft (Chris Hall)
Space Pragmatism (Dan Schrimpsher)
Eternal Golden Braid (Fred Kiesche)
Carried Away (Dan Schmelzer)
Laughing Wolf (C. Blake Powers)
Chair Force Engineer (Air Force Procurement)
Saturn Follies
JesusPhreaks (Scott Bell)
The Ombudsgod
Cut On The Bias (Susanna Cornett)
Joanne Jacobs

Site designed by

Powered by
Movable Type
Biting Commentary about Infinity, and Beyond!

« A Grim Anniversary | Main | "Digital Maosim" »

Bureaucratic Overreach?

Based on what I'm reading here, this is extremely disappointing, given how supportive FAA-AST has been of this fledgling industry to date:

MOJAVE - The nation's first inland spaceport could lose that designation by the end of the year.

The Federal Aviation Administration informed officials at the Mojave Air and Space Port of its intention to suspend or revoke the space launch site operator's license Dec. 31.

"I have no reason to be optimistic we're going to keep our spaceport license," said General Manager Stu Witt, reporting on the issue to the East Kern Airport District board of directors Tuesday. The district governs the Mojave Air and Space Port.

...Witt said the FAA has asked airport officials to dream up possible launch vehicle scenarios, imagining various types and amounts of propellants and devising safety plans for dealing with those chemicals.

"I'm not in the business of dealing in stories; I deal in fact," he said.

The airport does have safety and storage plans in effect for those propellents and other energetic materials in use at the site.

The facility's 2006 safety inspection found no compliance issues, Witt said. However, the safety inspection this year resulted in a notice that the facility had 90 days to come into compliance but failed to state what the problems were, he said.

One of the implications of this is that companies like XCOR and Masten Space Systems (not to mention the SpaceShip Company) are going to have to pull up stakes and move somewhere else, though it's not clear how any other US spaceport can meet what seem to be unreasonable FAA demands.

Look. One has to go back to the original intent and basis of the regulations. FAA-AST (and its predecessor, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which reported directly to the Secretary of Transportation, and was not part of the FAA) exists for one reason--to meet the obligations of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Our participation in that treaty means that the US government (unlike any other mode of transportation) is liable for any activity involving spaceflight that occurs from its boundaries or its citizens/corporations. (In fact, that means that suborbital flight within the confines of the US is not even relevant to the treaty, but that's a discussion for another time.)

But ground testing, and development that doesn't involve actual spaceflight is not covered in any way by that treaty. No part of FAA-AST should be involved in, or even interested in, vehicle development activities that do not involve vehicles that don't go into space, let alone ones that don't leave the ground at all. These were accidents in propulsion testing on test stands. If any federal agency should be involved (I would argue that none should) it would be OSHA. The FAA (and particularly FAA-AST) should only be involved when testing of actual flight vehicles occur. They have no business worrying about what kinds of propellants are used in vehicle development (let alone engine development), until operators and developers actually seek launch licenses for flight testing using those propellants.

I know, and have friends, at FAA-AST. I hope that one of them will (convincingly) explain to me why I'm wrong.

[Update late evening]

I don't actually hope they'll explain to me why I'm wrong, because if they can do that, it's bad news for the industry. What I really hope is that they'll realize that they're wrong, and not strangle this young industry in the cradle.

And Clark Lindsey is more succinct than I in describing the problem.

[Friday update]

Patti Grace Smith is denying the report:

Earlier I noted a report noted by Rand Simberg and several other space bloggers that the Mojave Space Port was in danger of closure by the FAA. I also emailed Patricia Smith, the FAA's Associate Adminstrator for Commercial Space Transportation. She responds: "The report is totally inaccurate."

That's good, and like Glenn, I appreciate the fast reply, but it would be nice to see a more expansive, and clarifying response. If the report is "totally inaccurate" (hard to believe that anything can be totally inaccurate) what is accurate? What, if anything, is going on?

And if Stu is crying wolf, that won't help him the next time he needs to deal with AST.

Posted by Rand Simberg at December 06, 2007 06:05 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference this post from Transterrestrial Musings.

It does sound a bit overreaching, but I'm hopeful that some negotiation works things out. Different classifications for the propellants (and necessary requirements) should be reachable, but should have already been covered. Looks like the Personal Spaceflight Federation has its first challenge!

Posted by Tom at December 7, 2007 07:19 AM

This could be blowback from the Scaled explosion

Posted by at December 8, 2007 09:48 AM

Post a comment

Email Address: