SpaceX Advocates for Extension Ban on Regulating Commercial Human Spaceflight

SpaceX intends to apply to the US Congress for an extension of the ban on imposing safety regulations on commercial human spaceflight. The moratorium was supposed to end this year, but the FAA is still not ready for more regulation.

SpaceX plans to advocate the US Congress on Wednesday for a multiyear extension of a ban on imposing safety regulations on commercial human spaceflight. The company’s executive plans to argue that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is already struggling to keep pace with a rapidly shifting rocket launch industry.

“We want to keep moving as fast paced as we can,” William Gerstenmaier, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg News. “And we don’t want to be held up where we don’t need to be held up.”

He argues that even under its traditional regulatory authority, the FAA needs more staff to carry out its oversight responsibilities. SpaceX is an actively developing company that launched 73 missions in 2023 alone.

“They’ve been supportive to us, but we think they’re just getting buried, and we just see them getting more and more busy in the future,” he said.

A congressional moratorium in effect since 2004 prevents the FAA from regulating the safety of passengers aboard commercial spaceflight. Astronauts who fly into space in commercial vehicles do so on the basis of “informed consent.” The purpose of the moratorium was to provide the human spaceflight industry with a “learning period.” Aviation, for example, went through several decades of experimentation and flight before the FAA began regulating it.

The nearly 20-year moratorium was supposed to end on October 1 but was extended by three months until January 1, 2024. This was a temporary measure and it is now unclear whether there will be another extension. This topic will be discussed during a hearing of the Senate subcommittee on space and science on Wednesday. Representatives from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will join Gerstenmaier as witnesses.

In a 2017 report to Congress, the FAA concluded that the space industry is not ready for more regulation, according to research by Laura Montgomery, Columbus School of Law. Three indicators of industry readiness for regulation outlined by the FAA include: the purpose of space travel, the size and complexity of the industry, and the industry’s safety record. This means that safety regulations may be appropriate when space travel becomes a common means of human transportation. However, at this stage, this is not true.

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