Space Access Update #105  10/19/04 
                 Copyright 2004 by Space Access Society 

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If you've begun to detect a pattern in the intros to our last few 
Updates, you're not alone.  Once again we write in extreme haste, and 
have to pass over much good and interesting news - this time to cover a 
subject of considerable urgency. 

Contents this issue:

 - HR 3752 In Jeopardy - License To Fly, Or Death Of An Industry? 


                         HR 3752 Current Status

(See our Update #102, at, for 
some background on Federal regulation of the promising new US private 
passenger-carrying spaceflight industry.)  

A law usefully clarifying current Federal commercial launch regulations 
as they affect carrying commercial passengers, HR 3752, The Commercial 
Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, has been working its way through 
the Congress since last winter.  In brief, HR 3752 alters existing law 
to both allow and encourage the Federal Aviation Administration's 
Advanced Space Transportation division (FAA AST) to license low-cost 
reusable commercial passenger-carrying space vehicles on an informed-
consent-to-risk basis that gives the new industry a chance to grow, 
rather than strangling it in the cradle with unrealistically rigid 
standards that the new technology cannot yet support. 

HR 3752 passed the House by a vote of 402-1 this summer, in a form that 
wasn't perfect (it created considerable uncertainty via a too-narrow 
definition of "suborbital rocket" that excluded some serious current 
design approaches) but that with a bit of common sense from the FAA 
might have worked reasonably well. 

The bill then went to the Senate Commerce Committee, where it ran into 
its first major snag - a Senator from a state hosting a reusable rocket 
company whose design fell outside the "suborbital rocket" definition put 
a hold on the bill.  This part of the story has a happy ending; the FAA 
division that had previously refused to budge on that overly narrow 
definition eventually budged, and a new expanded definition was written 
into the Senate version of HR 3752.

By then though two more months had passed, the elections were close at 
hand, and the practical options for passing HR 3752 had narrowed down 
to Senate Commerce Committee staffers working out an acceptable version 
with their House counterparts, then both Senate and House passing 
identical new versions under fast-track "unanimous consent" rules.  This 
should have been no problem; we're told the House was (and is) happy 
with the revised more-inclusive definition of a suborbital rocket. 

But someone, for whatever reason, threw a spanner in the works, altering 
another section of the bill that defined allowable levels of risk in a 
manner that would have killed the budding new industry stone dead.  
Briefly, HR 3752 said that risk to uninvolved members of the public had 
to be kept many-nines low, risk to crewmembers was a matter for FAA AST 
to work out with individual companies as part of the licensing process, 
while passengers simply had to be fully informed of the risks involved.  
The change was a simple one - FAA AST was to become responsible for 
ensuring the same many-nines level of safety for crew and passengers of 
the new vehicles as that required for uninvolved bystanders. 

This may even have been well-intentioned; it could have sounded 
reasonable to someone not well-informed about the field.  But the 
practical effect would be to require astronomical numbers of successful 
test flights of any new vehicle to statistically prove a many-nines 
reliability level, before either passengers or crew would be allowed on 
board.  The relatively immature state of reusable rocket technology 
aside, no unpiloted or remote-piloted vehicle has ever come close to 
that reliability level.  This change was an industry-killer. 

The bill as fatally altered was set to move out of the Senate Commerce 
Committee for quick unanimous-consent passage by the Senate at the start 
of October.  Only another hold by a Senator on the Committee stopped 
this at the last second, at which point the various parties agreed to 
sit down and work out differences over the election break, and if a 
version could be agreed on, pass it by unanimous consent in the final 
post-election session of this Congress.   That's where things stand now. 

                               What To Do 

If you're a US citizen from one of the fifty states, you have two 
Senators.  Fax or phone them in DC, or contact them back at home if the 
election campaign gives you a chance, and ask them to support a version 
of HR 3752 acceptable to the FAA and to the members of the new reusable 
rocket industry.  If appropriate, go on to give a very brief supporting 
pitch, to the effect that this new industry has huge promise for the US, 
that it's appropriate to have the FAA stringently regulate risk to the 
general public, but that industry participants have to be able to take 
some risks in these early days in order to learn enough so that rockets 
can eventually be as safe as airplanes only got after generations of 
accumulated aviation experience. 

For contact info, go to and enter your nine-
digit zip code (look at one of your bills) in the Find Your 
Representatives box.  Scan down to your two Senators, click on their 
names, and you should have all the info you need. 

If you fax, be polite, brief, and straightforward - keep it well under 
one page of reasonably large and readable print  (a paragraph that's 
read is better than an essay that isn't), make your basic point at the 
start, support it briefly, then sign it with your name, city, and state 
and send it.  (No paper-mail letters - word is those currently are 
backed up for months by security checks - and email comes in such 
volumes that individual emails carry almost zero weight.  If you want to 
write, fax it.) 
If you phone, ask to speak to whoever handles commercial space matters 
for your Senator, then when you're connected to that staffer (or more 
likely their voicemail) do the same as for a fax - make the basic 
support request, then if appropriate back it up briefly, thank them for 
their time, and ring off. If they have questions, do your best to answer 
them - briefly! - you might want to go over the background here and in 
SAU #102 before calling - then once done, thank them and ring off. 

Don't assume because you didn't read this until a week or two after we 
sent it out that it's no longer urgent.  The window for effective action 
on this will likely be open well into November.  Stay tuned for further 
word; we'll report as soon as we know anything.  Meanwhile - fax and call! 

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 Space Access Society 

 "Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System" 
                                        - Robert A. Heinlein