(Sen) - NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have signed an agreement to coordinate standards for commercial space travel for both government missions and space tourism.
With a growing number of commercial space companies looking to provide their space transportation services to both NASA and private customers, the US agencies are looking to establish a common set of principles for the space industry. The FAA will oversee public safety whilst NASA will determine crew safety standards. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by both parties on June 18 relating to the licensing of missions to the International Space Station.
All companies wishing to take people to space from the US must obtain an FAA license which covers safety and the US's international treaty obligations. The FAA licensed the X PRIZE winning SpaceShipOne's two trips to sub-orbital space in 2004 and also licensed SpaceX's recent mission to the space station. Recently the FAA granted Virgin Galactic an experimental launch permit for its sub-orbital commercial space taxi.
"This agreement is the next step in bringing the business of launching Americans back to American soil," Charles Bolden, NASA administrator said. "We are fostering private sector innovation while maintaining high standards of safety and reliability to re-establish U.S.-crewed access to low-Earth orbit, in-sourcing work to American companies and encouraging the development of dynamic and cost-effective spaceflight capabilities built to last."
"The Obama administration recognizes the scientific, technological and economic benefits of maintaining the United States' leadership in space travel and exploration," said FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta. "This agreement between the FAA and NASA continues and advances those vital national interests."
Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011 NASA's strategy is to use commercial companies to deliver cargo and astronauts to the space station. Cargo shipments are being managed under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Program, given a boost recently by the successful demonstration mission by SpaceX. Another US company, Orbital Sciences Corporation, is also working under COTS and plans a demonstration flight of its Antares rocket in Q3 this year, followed by a demonstration mission of its Cygnus spacecraft to the space station by the end of the year.
Human spaceflight development is organised by the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. Companies awarded contracts under the Commercial Crew Development programme are: Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon Space Development Corporation, Sierra Nevada Corporation and United Launch Alliance. All these companies will need an FAA license to operate their service, whether it is a contract for NASA or for business or fee paying space tourists.
Meanwhile in the UK the third European Space Tourism Conference is taking place, highlighting that commercial space travel is developing on a global scale and commercial flights are will happen outside the US - even by US companies - and space operators will ultimately want a global spaceflight framework to adhere to.