Congress Should Cut the Red Tape Grounding Reusable Rockets

Congress Should Cut the Red Tape Grounding Reusable Rockets

July 28, 2003 Press Releases

Los Angeles, July 28, 2003 – The Space Frontier Foundation congratulated Congress for taking the first steps to opening space to the public by holding hearings on regulatory barriers that may well ground an entire new spaceship industry before it even gets to fly.

“Some insightful leaders in Congress recognize reusable commercial space transportation may well be the next technology revolution following the Internet, and are trying to make sure this incredible new industry gets a chance to spread its wings before being caged by the wrong types of regulations,” said the Foundation’s Rick Tumlinson. “We applaud their efforts and urge them to continue this important work.”

The joint Senate and House hearings were held last week and chaired by Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. The event began to spotlight a confused and inhibiting regulatory environment that may kill American leadership in commercial space transportation, and keep the American people from flying into space themselves as part of a potentially multi-billion-dollar space travel industry.

In contrast with the Internet, which began with few regulations to stifle its growth, several witnesses testified that regulatory hurdles are the biggest factors keeping rockets on the ground and keeping people from going into space. Jon Kutler, CEO and Founder of Quarterdeck Investment Partners, LLC, made the situation very clear in his testimony: “The only question the Wright Brothers faced as they started their tests was ‘can we?’… The question … has become ‘will we be allowed?’” Mr. Kutler then suggested that the government take a Hippocratic approach to “do no harm” when evaluating regulatory structure because “an inappropriate degree of regulatory control … would kill the investment raising ability of otherwise fundable companies.”

“This is a potential disaster for our leadership in the world of space technology,” said Tumlinson. “We have people like Dennis Tito, the first person ever to purchase a ticket to space, who are ready to invest millions of dollars to kick-start this new industry. They aren’t afraid of the new vehicle concepts or safety risks as much as they are afraid of the red tape. And we may lose them all if Congress doesn’t act now to clean up the mess.”

The Foundation believes confusion over who oversees this new class of vehicles has condemned it to be regulated out of existence. The group wants Congress to re-state and strengthen its intent that the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) has full and exclusive authority to license Reusable Launch Vehicles. It further urges that AST be moved back out of the FAA, as it was when it was created in 1984 as a separate agency. The Foundation backs the testimony of the CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, who stated in the hearings: “Reaffirming the authority of the AST office…as the primary regulatory agent for space vehicles”, but thinks it may not go far enough. Congress may need to move the group out of the control of the FAA, in order for us to gain real, reliable access to space. “That is what true access to space is about,” said Musk, “creating affordable ways for people, payloads, satellites, and experiments to develop the space frontier.”