FAA, NASA Sign Commercial Space Travel Agreement

** SpaceX’s Dragon approaches the ISS after
launching from Cape Canaveral in a recent
mission. The flight stemmed from a NASA
contract to deliver cargo to the space station.**

The FAA and NASA have worked out an agreement covering who will be in charge of licensing and public safety for private-sector spacecraft lifting off and landing inside the borders of the United States.

The agreement puts the FAA in charge of any crew-carrying spacecraft that launches and lands in the U.S., but also requires the space agency’s additional signoff for crew safety and on any missions it’s paying for.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the two agencies this month establishes an official policy for operational missions to the International Space Station and into low-earth orbit. Commercial providers will be required to obtain a license from the FAA for such missions, while crew safety and mission assurance will be NASA’s responsibility.

The agreement is in line with a Congressional mandate that calls for the FAA to regulate spacecraft to protect public safety, while letting companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic to fly private passengers at their own risk.

As it stands now, the FAA’s role is limited to the launch and re-entry itself. After 2015, when the first space tourist companies could be ready to start transporting paying passengers into orbit, the government’s role might change.

NASA has been paying four companies — Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX — more than $400 million to develop spaceships to ferry U.S. astronauts to the ISS. NASA is expected to announce soon which companies will be involved in the next phase of the commercial crew program.

“This important agreement between the FAA and NASA will advance our shared goals in commercial space travel,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “Working together, we will assure clear, consistent standards for the industry.”


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