Leading Space Companies Advocate For Extension Of Human Spaceflight Learning Period


Three prominent space companies – SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic – have jointly urged Congress to extend the learning period for human spaceflight by several years. The companies argue that additional time is necessary for the industry to mature before new safety regulations are introduced. While underscoring the need for improved regulatory processes, the companies also highlighted that the existing framework adequately addresses the current state of the industry.

Key Takeaway

  • SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic advocate for an extension of the 20-year moratorium on federal regulations for human spaceflight, providing more time for industry maturation before new safety guidelines are introduced.
  • The companies emphasize the need for improved regulatory processes, including streamlined procedures, increased funding for the FAA, and a synchronized approach across regulatory agencies.
  • Enhancing regulations will bolster America’s space program and maintain its competitive edge as other nations accelerate their own space initiatives.

Seeking a Lengthy Extension

The 20-year moratorium on federal regulations for human spaceflight missions is set to expire on January 1, and the companies collectively call for a substantial extension. SpaceX’s VP of Build and Flight Reliability, Bill Gerstenmaier, emphasized the importance of a multi-year extension to allow for a longer “learning period” for both companies and regulators. Gerstenmaier pointed out that human spaceflight represents only a small fraction of all space launches and asserted that proper regulations are already in place.

Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic’s VP of Government Affairs and Research, echoed Gerstenmaier’s sentiments, highlighting the limited availability of data to base regulations upon. She noted that with just three companies currently involved in human spaceflight, it would be premature to establish occupant safety regulations based on such a small dataset. Supporting an extension, Bandla expressed Virgin Galactic’s endorsement of an eight-year extension proposed by California Representative Kevin McCarthy.

Regulatory Processes in Need of Improvement

Aiding the argument for an extension, the companies emphasized the need for enhanced regulatory processes. They stressed the necessity of additional funding and a more streamlined approach to licensing and enforcing regulations. Gerstenmaier suggested that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should receive at least double its current funding allocation to effectively manage launch licenses and oversee regulations. The representatives also highlighted the importance of ensuring a streamlined process across the various regulatory agencies that oversee spaceflight activities.

Moreover, Phil Joyce, Blue Origin’s SVP of New Shepard, outlined three key areas for improvement at the FAA, including a more streamlined process, increased resources for licensing, and additional time for gaining experience in overseeing human spaceflight. Joyce stated that the pace of American regulation should align with the pace of innovation to prevent falling behind.

Implications for America’s Space Program

The companies emphasized that enhancing regulations surrounding spaceflight is vital for the advancement of America’s space program, as rival nations rapidly develop their own initiatives. Gerstenmaier warned that without matching the pace of American innovation, the nation’s space program could lose its competitive edge. Improved regulations would not only ensure safety but also support the growth and progress of the industry.

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