Commercial Space Flights & the FAA
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Commercial Space Flights & the FAA

Moon Express is trying to win the Google Lunar
X Prize and it’s trying to win that by sending a probe to the Moon that will roll around
for a couple of weeks and explore looking for rare minerals and things that they can
bring back to Earth for a profit someday. Most commercial space activity is about launching
things into orbit, mostly communication satellites and things like that. There have been a few other missions being
considered to explore asteroids and comets, but this is the first commercial mission to
land on the Moon. Moon Express needs government permission because
every space launch requires government permission. Under the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the
launching state is responsible for anything that any spacecraft it launches do, no matter
who launches them. All commercial space launchers are regulated
by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which does mission review
and issues launch licenses to be sure that they stick within international law and are
appropriately safe. The FAA’s been doing a pretty good job and
they have been doing it since the 1980s, since the passage of the first Commercial Space
Launch Act of 1984. A lot of people wonder why NASA doesn’t
regulate this sort of thing, but NASA is a civilian space R&D entity and it also does
some of its own launches, so it’s probably better to have somebody else do the regulation. The very valuable infrastructure in space
communication satellites, man stations, and so on, some potential for destruction on Earth
if it’s mishandled. So, it’s perfectly reasonable for the US
government to take an interest in what companies do in space. Could regulatory uncertainty be a problem
for the business model of companies who plan to go beyond Earth orbit? Yes, absolutely. All companies, especially companies that invest
a lot of money in long term projects, which this is, worry about regulatory uncertainty. The good news is, is that the United States
government and particularly, somewhat to my surprise, the Obama Administration, have really
been quite good about establishing a predictable, not very intrusive regulatory regime and then
sticking to it. The Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness
Act, among other things, says that if US citizens explore and find valuable minerals on other
celestial bodies, like the Moon or asteroids, they can cut them loose and bring them back
or sell them however they see fit, and the US government will recognize that, and that’s
very important and I think has really helped make investors feel more comfortable about
getting involved in space resource extraction. It’s better for investors to have a predictable
and understandable regulatory regime than it is to have no regulatory regime at all
with the fear that the government might swoop in and impose something unexpected at a later

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