ABA 2010: Commercial Spaceports – The New Frontier

October 26, 2010 at 10:05 am | Posted in Blogcast, Space Law Current Events | Leave a comment

By P.J. Blount with the blog faculty

The second panel of the day was titled Commercial Spaceports – The New Frontier and was moderated by Monica R. Hargrove, Airports Council International – North America. Panelists were David Hooper, GAO; Todd Linder, Jacksonville Aviation Authority; Rene J. Rey, FAA; and Laura Montgomery, FAA. This panel focused on the legal and regulatory issues raised by the concept of commercial spaceports.

Montgomery started by discussing what constitutes a spaceport in the legal and regulatory since. She stated that the word “spaceport” does not occur in the the statutory language. Instead she stated that the laws and regulations use “launch site” and “re-entry site.” She stated that historically these sites have been run by the federal government, but with the dawn of commercial spaceflight, the FAA was given competency to regulate such sites.

Rey then gave a summary of the commercial launch sites in the United States. First, he discussed the the Sealaunch platform and how it works. He said that it primarily services geosynchronous orbit. The he turned to discussing the Mojave space port, which is intended to service primarily suborbital space tourism activities. Finally, he highlighted the Kodiak Launch complex which services LEO.

Montgomery then discussed the development of the regulations of these sites. She said when they were first developed they were intended to govern ELVs, but they have had to be changed in order to adapt to the changing nature of commercial spaceflight. She stated that these regulations were intended to protect the civilian population from the high risks involved with launch activities. She stated that it was important to note that the regulations differentiate between the site operator and the launch operator, who have different responsibilities under the regulations.

Linder then discussed the licensing of Cecil Field in Jacksonville, FL as a launch site. He gave a brief history of Cecil Field and why it was chosen. Next, he moved to process of getting licensed. He said that one of the primary obstacles was the environmental assessment required by the EPA. he stated that once the finding of no significant impact was granted that the Jacksonville Aviation Authority was able to move forward on receiving it’s license from the FAA. He also discussed funding options that were available for commercial spaceports. He stated that after investigating the matter, the Jacksonville Authority decided to fund the entire project itself. He also discussed how the authority worked with various stakeholders to ensure that safety and security needs of all stakeholders were addressed.

Hooper then discussed the GAO’s involvement in research into the legal challenges that surround such enterprises. He said this research started as a 2006 report and continued in testimony given in 2009. He stated that one of the findings was that there would be significant growth in this area. He also stated that standards for ELVs and RLVs could differ between the FAA and other entities such as the Air Force, and that this caused industry concern. He said that this work was done in preparation for the 2012 sunsetting of many of the CSLAA requirements. He stated that there were concerns about the FAA’s dual responsibility to promote the industry as well as to regulate the industry’s safety. He concluded with a discussion of the issue of indemnification requirements for launch providers, and the continued renewal of the indemnification requirement.

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