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Private Spaceflight Law Shot Down

michael posted more than 9 years ago | from the falling-down-on-new-jersey dept.

Space 50

wiggles writes "MSNBC says that bill HR3752, which allows private, suborbital tourist flights, has died. We'll have to wait until next year for this one. According to the article, 'The bill would have put private-sector suborbital spaceflights on much firmer regulatory footing. It was approved overwhelmingly by the House back in March but languished in the Senate for months.'"

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50 comments

Mexico (3, Insightful)

Golias (176380) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854395)

If I'm President Vicente Fox, I've got dollar signs in my eyes right now.

Take a trip to Mazetlan, see the beautiful sights, enjoy some tequilla, and then fly into outer space as the highlight of your vacation!

Re:Mexico (1)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855255)

I think maybe I'd leave the tequila drinking until after I returned to gravity.... just imagine your stomach contents floating around like those M&Ms ;-p

Re:Mexico (5, Interesting)

Golias (176380) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855691)

That reminds me of a funny (somewhat apocraphal) space-flight puking story.

For one NASA flight, a frog was brought along on a mission for research testing, and as soon as they entered a zero-G environment, the frog not only puked, but actually inverted it's entire actual stomach outside of it's mouth, wiped the stomach walls clean with it's little front feet in a frenzied panic, and then shoved the stomache back down it's throat. After that, the it was fine.

There have been many times, particularilly after drinking tequila, in which I wished I was capable of doing that.

Re:Mexico (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855727)

That certainly put the "crap" (back?) in "apocraphal".

Re:Mexico (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10857513)

it's entire actual stomach
it's mouth
it's little front feet
it's throat

"its".

Re:Mexico (1)

Alsee (515537) | more than 9 years ago | (#10865358)

There have been many times, particularilly after drinking tequila, in which I wished I was capable of doing that.

I'm sure that would be a really great way to pick up girls at a party, chuckle.

-

Won't happen, Pentagon won't allow it (2, Interesting)

revscat (35618) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854512)

Unless the public gets all in an uproar about this, I don't see this as happening. It could potential interfere with the US military's superiority in this field, and what the Pentagon wants, it gets. They have far, far, FAR more money available in their PR budget than private entrepreneurs (either individually or collectively) ever will, and the result will most likely be determined accordingly.

Re:Won't happen, Pentagon won't allow it (2, Insightful)

Golias (176380) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854566)

Unless the public gets all in an uproar about this, I don't see this as happening. It could potential interfere with the US military's superiority in this field, and what the Pentagon wants, it gets. They have far, far, FAR more money available in their PR budget than private entrepreneurs (either individually or collectively) ever will, and the result will most likely be determined accordingly.

Right, because we have a vast fleet of military spaceships, and it's not like anybody could ever put a commercial satelite into orbit from a French-owned island near the Equator. We are the only country in the world who goes into space, and we only do so for military reasons.

Oh wait, I just remembered... None of that is true.

Re:Won't happen, Pentagon won't allow it (2, Insightful)

revscat (35618) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854620)

Right, because we have a vast fleet of military spaceships, and it's not like anybody could ever put a commercial satelite into orbit from a French-owned island near the Equator.

Of course none of that is true. But the Pentagon has the best means of accomplishing those things -- budgetary and expertise -- and they don't want any new kids on the block messing with their potential superiority. Further, they have repeatedly exhibited their hostility towards private space ventures, and with this administration's exclusive reliance upon Rumsfeld, I hold little to no hope that the good guys will come out on top.

Re:Won't happen, Pentagon won't allow it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855057)

Um... You do know that NASA is not under the Pentagon, right?

The Department of Defense has satelites, but they ride into space on non-military hardware, thought an agreement between the DoD, FAA, and NASA.

The DoD is not even the group holding all this up. The obstacle to civilian space travel is the FAA, not Defense. As fun as it is to cast Rummy as the main bad guy in every damn store at politics.slashdot.org, this all has nothing to do with him.

Re:Won't happen, Pentagon won't allow it (1)

we3 (546328) | more than 9 years ago | (#10862452)

Yes, but I assume when the DoD wants to send stuff up with NASA the money comes out of the DoD's budget and not NASA's. And I believe that the DoD mantains their own launch facilities, which they do launch from. So basically none of what you said negates what the previous poster said. The DoD does have the expertise, internally, via NASA, and via their partners in the military industrial complex. And they most certianly have the budget. You probably would have been better off simply giving a reason as to why the FAA would like to restrict civilian space travel, and then stating that its fun to portray rummy as the bad guy but ...

Re:Won't happen, Pentagon won't allow it (1)

ferret-slayer (164776) | more than 9 years ago | (#10860069)

it's not like anybody could ever put a commercial satelite into orbit from a French-owned island near the Equator.
French Guiana isn't an island. It borders Suriname and Brazil. http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ fg.html [cia.gov]

Re:Won't happen, Pentagon won't allow it (1)

minus_273 (174041) | more than 9 years ago | (#10864130)

hmm isnt the place there were HUGE riots when france testes a nuke under water there a few years ago?

Re:Won't happen, Pentagon won't allow it (2, Informative)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 9 years ago | (#10858572)

It could potential interfere with the US military's superiority in this field, and what the Pentagon wants, it gets.

It has nothing to do with the Pentagon.

Sen Inofe from Oklahoma held it up because the definition of a suborbital rocket ("`suborbital rocket' means a rocket-propelled vehicle intended for flight on a suborbital trajectory whose thrust is greater than its lift for the majority of the powered portion of its flight") could be read to mean that Rocketplane, a venture in his state, would fall under the FAA's regulatory power and probably kill it because the FAA would treat it as a commercial craft which would be too expensive. Rocketplane's design uses jet engines for most of the flight, with rockets only for the suborbital portion. A minor wording change could fix it, something like, "`suborbital rocket' means a rocket-propelled vehicle intended for flight on a suborbital trajectory for at least a portion of its flight whose thrust is greater than its lift for the majority of the powered portion of the suborbital phase of its flight" (my alterations in italics). Even something this small takes time to make the rounds, though.

There are also concerns about requiring passengers, for now, to sign away all liability. The ventures want this -- they don't want to see their early multi-million dollar investments in what is clearly a young, risky, and dangerous venture crushed by one bad flight that results in tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits. Opponents are concerned that this will allow them to take too many risks and cavalierly treat their customers as cash sources who don't have to be paid back later on, skimping on their safety. Both sides have valid points, and both sides want to reach a middle ground, which will almost certainly happen, but with all of the other things happening in the presidential election year, it just never got moved forward fast enough.

It's still on the schedule, and will probably pass next year, if only to keep Virgin Galactic from including Virgin Atlantic flights out of the country with its ticket packages.

Moving Forward (2, Interesting)

wbechard (830613) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854643)

I would really like to see the private space industry open up. Hopefully the bill that does get passed isn't too restrictive for new private companies looking into the space industry. Governments should do what they can to promote private sector growth in the space industry, not stifle it. New startups in the space industry could spark a whole new economic boom, and if not an economic boom, at least the start of a new revolution. Call me optimistic, but these are simply my views.

It does open a bidding war (3, Insightful)

CodeWanker (534624) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854755)

among other countries. Brazil would love to add world's only commercial spaceport to its list of national trophies/tourist attractions. So would Malaysia. So would a ton of other countries. If we don't get this approved, we'll see a lot of tech and cash go elsewhere.

Re:It does open a bidding war (2, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 9 years ago | (#10857749)

Not being equatorial, the USA isn't even in an ideal location for spaceflight, and it's not even possible to put a space elevator here. It's time for the US to wake up to the idea that it's going to be bypassed when it comes to the commercialization of space if it doesn't develop some compelling reason for it to be included. (I say it, but I do live here myself... I'm talking about the government I guess.) That means we need to build more technology and expertise, and that means we need to get into space commercialization as rapidly as possible. Here's hoping that we come to our collective senses and make it happen.

Re:It does open a bidding war (1)

Alsee (515537) | more than 9 years ago | (#10865452)

Not being equatorial, the USA isn't even in an ideal location for spaceflight

Obviously the US needs a state on the equator - prefferably on the east coast so launches go out over the ocean.

What's that Mr Bush? Brazil needs liberating? YES SIR! I'll get right on it!

-

Re:It does open a bidding war (1)

LittleGuy (267282) | more than 9 years ago | (#10868614)

What's that Mr Bush? Brazil needs liberating? YES SIR! I'll get right on it!

Brazil and Bush... that's waxing poetically, if ever I saw....

why do we need the US's permission? (3, Interesting)

sevinkey (448480) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854757)

Since when was space the 51st state? And if so, since when has there been a state that I can't go to as a citizen?

If I was looking to make money off of this, I'd go to Canada or Mexico, start sending people out into space, and make millions while the whole thing gets fought out in court, generating millions of dollars worth of free advertising. I'd probably end up selling the company before a decision ever comes around, and go live in Costa Rica.

What's the US gonna do, shoot down passenger space craft just because congress can't get a bill through? Talk about a PR nightmare!

Re:why do we need the US's permission? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855210)

Given Canada's (and to certain extent Mexico's) willingness to kowtow to the American agenda, I doubt this will happen.
In addition, it is not generally the launch facilities themselves that are the expensive part, but the communication and tracking networks which make actually doing anything in space feasible (especially in our tremendously polluted earth orbits).
If you plan violating US airspace to take your passengers up, then yes, I would expect a military response fairly quickly.

Re:why do we need the US's permission? (4, Insightful)

InfiniteWisdom (530090) | more than 9 years ago | (#10857867)

You don't need the US's permission to go to space. You need US permission to get there through US airspace.

Re:why do we need the US's permission? (1)

Ryan Stortz (598060) | more than 9 years ago | (#10861653)

The United Nations passed a law/treaty/whatever saying that whichever country you launch in, you need their permission.

Re:why do we need the US's permission? (1)

CaptRespect (586610) | more than 9 years ago | (#10862048)

Wow, and if you violate this UN law or whatever, the UN will probably umm...send you a letter.

DEAR GOD NOOOO!!!!

The UN sucks, it's not really relavent for anything.

Re:why do we need the US's permission? (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 9 years ago | (#10862248)

No, they could take it to the International Court of Justice and have you wrapped up in legalisms for years.

Re:why do we need the US's permission? (1)

jim_v2000 (818799) | more than 9 years ago | (#10862408)

Wow, and if you violate this UN law or whatever, the UN will probably umm...send you a letter.

No, they don't send letters. They pass resolutions. If you violate the resolution, they pass another resolution that says how pissed off they all were that you violated the first resolution. This process continues until in disgust, the United States pushes the UN aside and kicks your ass for violating the resolutions.

No tears yet (3, Insightful)

Shihar (153932) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854887)

My understand was that this bill was the beginings of regulating the private space industry. Personally, I see absolutely no loss if that is the case. I would rather leave the field upon and relativly unregulated other then getting a permit to go up until we have a better understanding as to how the industry is shaping up. Let the leaders take the risks and get out in front. If they want to throw their lives away, let that be their choice. The only time the government should step in, is to ensure that public safety is not in danger.

Re:No tears yet (1)

Malfourmed (633699) | more than 9 years ago | (#10856871)

I may revise my opinion after finding out more facts, but it strikes me that it doesn't make sense to regulate too restrictively an industry that's in its pioneering phase.*

Concern for passenger and crew safety is commendable of course but let's face it, we're dealing with an inherently risky venture here and everyone involved in a space flight would know this regardless of whatever safety standard is mandated.

It's in the industry's own self-interest to implement the highest possible safety standards itself. At the same time I think there needs to be a recognition that you can't eliminate the chance of a tragedy just by legislation.

Letting a bill that would act to spur private space enterprise die merely because of this reason is disappointing.

Once we get to the stage where the space industry has reached critical mass then the need for regulation becomes more justifiable. But we're a long way from this. Right now, the plant needs watering not pruning.

(* I would subscribe to this principle for any new industry though the risk/safety equation needs to be adjusted for technologies that have the potential for significant environmental impact, eg biotechnology.)

Re:No tears yet (1)

sean23007 (143364) | more than 9 years ago | (#10869086)

Yeah, it'll be their choice to risk their lives, but if they die it'll inevitably be the choice of their families to sue the pants off the people who built the rockets. So if any of the companies involve with this make any slip ups, the fledgling industry could very well be destroyed by lawsuits ... that seems to have become the social climate in America over the past several years. Quite unfortunate.

Re:No tears yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10880720)

yah, that could be very Challenger-ing. Ask NASA how badly they got sued. What? They didn't get sued? Hmmm, do we have a business plan yet?

I'm a little unclear on this part of the bill: (1)

benhocking (724439) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855109)

Prohibits operating a reusable suborbital rocket under a permit for carrying any property or human being for compensation or hire.

Is this suggesting that the government would be prohibited from being compensated, or that private industry would be prohibited from being compensated. If that latter, then ...?

In short, although I initially supported this bill (i.e., before I actually read any of it), now I'm not so sure...

Re:I'm a little unclear on this part of the bill: (1)

sexylicious (679192) | more than 9 years ago | (#10869419)

Probably the government. If it's the latter, then it doesn't make sense.

On the other hand... (2, Informative)

Lady Jazzica (689768) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855253)

Another useful space-related bill did get passed [house.gov]:
The Senate last night passed, and sent to the President, a Science Committee bill (H.R. 5245) to extend the law under which the U.S. government insures companies that launch satellites for damages or deaths sustained by individuals who were not involved in the launch. The House had passed the bill in October by unanimous consent, and Senate approval was also by unanimous consent; the President is expected to sign it.


The bill will extend the insurance, known as indemnification, for five years, until Dec. 31, 2009. The bill, introduced by Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), would also require a study by a non-governmental entity of whether indemnification could be ended without unduly harming U.S. companies, and, if so, how that should be done.

The indemnification provisions in H.R. 5245 were originally part of a larger bill, H.R. 3752, to make additional changes to the Commercial Space Launch Act.

Under current law, which H.R. 5245 would extend, satellite launchers must buy private insurance to cover injuries to third parties. The insurance must cover losses up to the "maximum probable loss" level determined by the government. The government then indemnifies the launcher for any additional losses up to about $1.5 billion per launch, meaning the government pledges to pay any claims for the private company that exceed the amount covered by private insurance.

"More serious explanation"? (1)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855605)

"The FAA could not administer safety regulations unless someone is killed on one of these flights, until 2012. A provision like that in itself, we believe, requires a more serious explanation than what we've received so far," [congressional panel mouthpiece Steve] Hansen said.

What more of an explanation do they need than this: Space is hard. People will die exploring and exploiting space. They'll know what they're getting into before they close the hatch, and will agree to take that chance.

That pretty much takes care of it to my satisfaction. What more does Congress want?

This is nonsense (1)

KilobyteKnight (91023) | more than 9 years ago | (#10856652)

Laws do not allow people to do things, laws prevent people from doing things.

There are no laws preventing commercial space flight. This was an attempt to regulate it and therefore restrict commercial space flight. This bill failing is a good thing for privite space missions. It would have been bad had it passed.

Re:This is nonsense (4, Informative)

learn fast (824724) | more than 9 years ago | (#10857671)

"There are no laws preventing commercial space flight."

No, it's been regulated by the FAA since 1991. This bill would have just changed the regulations a bit. In any event this is still suborbital flight we're talking about.

Re:This is nonsense (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 9 years ago | (#10921139)

More importantly, the law would have specified in more direct and clear language exactly what government agency has direct control and authority over spaceflight as launched from U.S. soil and through U.S. airspace.

Other agencies, like the FCC, FBI, and even NASA have all been wanting to get their hands into the cookie jar, and with the bill it is very obvious that only the FAA can run the show except for some very minor issues (like the FCC controlling telemetry frequencies for spacecraft). For that this is a very big deal.

Also, it forces the FAA to acknowledge that people will be requesting permits for private commercial spaceflight, and that the U.S. Congress is expecting these permits to be issued unless there is a very serious and grave reason for them not to be issued. At the moment it is more like you may be issued a permit for spaceflight, if and only if you have greased your local congressmen, prayed to the proper gods, and just plain dumb luck has come down on you like the fairy godmother from Cinderella. Basically, the permit is there only to suggest it is possible in theory, but in actual practice it may never get issued.

Re:This is nonsense (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10857889)

Perhaps you didn't notice that half the battle for the X-Prize contestants was getting government approval to fly.

When they got approval, the gov't said "ok, you can fly, but not with paying passengers."

I agree that it should be as you say, but the U.S. isn't that free of a country anymore.

free space! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10857779)

Throughout the whole spaceship one story, I've been constantly thinking about Free Space. [amazon.com]

The government doesn't want private spaceflight because all the people would just as soon leave the planet to escape taxation. I know I would.

Re:free space! (1)

320mb (590888) | more than 9 years ago | (#10858119)

all the people would not be able to leave, only the rich morons.......like that bozo from nsync .......who was supposed to take a ride on the russian ship........I can think of better things to do with 12 million dollars.....

Re:free space! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10860784)

Just wait, and it'll become affordable for the little guy, too. There's a reason why the poor today in some respects live better than kings did centuries ago.

Re:free space! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10862233)

you know... it's like...... sometimes.... a single period can be sufficient.... to end your sentences.

Good! (1)

zogger (617870) | more than 9 years ago | (#10858544)

Great! I hope they move it lock stock and barrel out of the United States to some nation that has some vision and some nads. Like Brazil perhaps. I also hope that software production gets moved to places without IP patents. I hope this gets raked through the news up and down sideways to show the US people what complete ridiculous incompetent morons they have that they keep voting for,cycle after cycle as they get brainwashed into "not wasting their votes" and what has really happened to the government. The US federal government is primarily concerned with imperialist warfare, protecting the profits of entrenched monopolies and the 1% uber millionaire/billionaire class, and perpetuating and expanding their own bloated governmental bureaucracy. The more they do things like this, the quicker we might see honest constructive change, even if it gets ugly for awhile.

Re:Good! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10880773)

Yah, I voted for Perot, too.

We live in the most litigious society ever, where only lawyers understand all the implications. We need a new frontier (sorry, Kirk, but cliches are sometimes useful) where innovation and lawlessness can erode our entrenched bureaucratic sense of self preservation.

But them entrenched monopolies are gonna be a bitch to circumnavigate unless and until they (the ubiquitous and undefinable "they") realize without such a danger and challenge our society (and their money) are doomed.

OK, maybe that was pathetically hysterical, but ask any Roman you happen to see...

From a more recent article: (2, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 9 years ago | (#10869665)

If any of you vote in Minnesota, you may want to call up Jim Oberstar (D-Minn) and voice your concerns...

From here [msn.com]:

The Republican leadership tried to push the bill through by suspending the chamber's rules through a voice vote, but Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn. -- who voiced firm opposition to the bill on safety grounds -- called for a yea-and-nay breakdown and noted that a quorum was not present. That stymied the GOP's procedural maneuver, and further action was postponed.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., argued during the 40-minute debate that new legislation was needed to resolve the Federal Aviation Administration's role in regulating piloted suborbital space launches, and that the FAA would be able to step in if a spacecraft was found to be unsafe for the crew or passengers. Oberstar, on the other hand, believes that the bill is too lax in that regard, and that the FAA would have to stand by until someone is killed or gravely injured.

Rohrabacher said failure to act could drive the infant suborbital space travel industry out of the country. "Don't strangle this industry and drive these entrepreneurs offshore," he pleaded.

Re:From a more recent article: (1)

geoffspear (692508) | more than 9 years ago | (#10925349)

Yeah, how dare a Congressman try to prevent the other party from making laws when most of Congress isn't even around? I don't care what position a bill is taking; if it can't be passed under normal congressional procedure it's just pushing us one step closer to an oligarchy ruled by 4 or 5 top Republicans.
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