CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Feb. 15 (UPI) -- With the first commercial passenger spaceflights expected before the next presidential election, the U.S. government weighed in last week with a first draft of rules and regulations to oversee private space vehicles, operators and their all-important, fare-paying customers.
Two sets of guidelines released by the Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial Space Transportation office last Friday give wide berth to the industry -- until the inevitable accident or close call occurs. Then, according to a provision in the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, signed into law in the waning days of 2004, the Department of Transportation and the FAA have the authority step in and issue regulations to govern the design and operation of private space-launch vehicles.
Until that day, federal officials seem content to concern themselves solely with issues that involve the safety of John Q. Public: the men, women and children who have nothing to do with spaceflight and who the government is obliged to protect from harm by the space activities of others.
Toward that goal, the FAA wants the reusable-launch-vehicle operators to use licensed pilots, who are rated to operate types of aircraft that operate similarly to the space vehicle during as many phases of the mission as possible.
The agency also wants spaceship pilots to hold FAA second-class medical certification, not as stringent as what is required of commercial airline pilots, but more rigorous than the third-class medical certificate required for private pilots. The classifications address standards for ear, eye, nose, throat, equilibrium, mental, neurological, cardiovascular performance and general medical condition.
"The safe operation of an RLV (reusable launch vehicle) with flight crew can be affected by the heath or medical condition of the flight crew," the FAA document states.
Crew training is of prime concern, with the FAA proposing written documentation to assure that launch-vehicle operators and their crews are prepared to handle a variety of emergency scenarios, that their training is current, and that in-flight experiences and test data will be continually and regularly incorporated into training programs.
The government wants crewmembers to consent in writing that they are aware of the risks of space flight and are aware the government has not certified the launch vehicle as safe to fly with crew of passengers.
Though the FAA does not intend to certify the spaceships for flight, officials do want to stipulate minimum standards for a variety of systems deemed necessary to keep the craft under control and thus minimizing the threat to the public. The guidelines specifically mention the vehicles' oxygen supply and carbon-dioxide-removal systems, the cabin pressure, temperature, air quality and circulation, humidity and ventilation, fire-suppression system and ability to mitigate the effects of decompression.
As far as the space tourists themselves, the aviation agency wants to require the launch-vehicle operators to disclose fully the risks of spaceflight aboard their vehicles as well as all other government and private launch and re-entry vehicles.
"The safety records should not be limited to only the vehicles of a particular RLV operator," notes the DOT.
The FAA wants space tourists to be told in no uncertain terms that flying on these uncertified vehicles may result in their deaths.
"This description should include the likelihood and consequences of any reasonably foreseeable hazardous event and safety-critical failures that could result in a serious injury or death to the space flight participant," the guidelines state.
Further, the FAA wants it in writing that spaceflight participants understand they will be flying aboard an uncertified craft. Operators also would be required to have a sign prominently displayed in the vehicle stating the vehicle does not meet aircraft-certification standards.
The agency does not plan to certify the health of space tourists to fly, but leaves that decision up to a physician "trained in the concepts of aerospace medicine." Anyone who wants to travel in space would be required to provide his or her medical history to a physician for review.
Last, to protect the safety of the flight crew and, in turn, the public, tourists will be prohibited from carrying aboard any explosives, firearms, knives or weapons. There is no mention, however, of any limitations in the size and number of carry-on bags.
In an effort to coordinate an effective response to the guidelines and minimize government involvement in regulating the new industry, a new trade organization debuted last week.
The Personal Spaceflight Federation unites an array of private-spaceflight advocates -- including industry front-runner Scaled Composites, builder of the X Prize-winning sub-orbital passenger vehicle SpaceShipOne -- and a host of competitors. Scaled Composites, of Mojave, Calif., is designing a commercial sub-orbital fleet based on SpaceShipOne technology for Virgin Galactic, a subsidiary of London-based Virgin Group.
"Everybody sat down in one place and agreed about something for a change," said federation spokesman Gregg Maryniak, who also serves as executive director for the X Prize Foundation.
"People have figured out that this is going to be an industry and it is time for this group to be a group," Maryniak told UPI's Space Race 2.
Among the group's top priorities is to serve as a single point of contact for federal regulators.
"Where we can, we will speak with one voice," he said.
The federation's charter members include John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace, Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites, Elon Musk of SpaceX, Alex Tai of Virgin Galactic, Jeff Greason of XCOR Aerospace, Peter Diamandis of the X Prize Foundation, Gary Hudson of t/Space and HMX, George French of Pioneer Rocketplane, Stuart Witt of the Mojave Spaceport of California, Eric Anderson of Space Adventures, and Michael Kelly, chairman of the Reusable Launch Vehicle Working Group of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee.
Space Race 2 is a weekly series exploring the people, the passions and the business of sub-orbital manned spaceflight, by long-time aerospace journalist Irene Klotz. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org