Should commercial spaceflight be more like a run-of-the-mill aeroplane ride, or a thrill-seeking skydive? US politicians went for the latter this week as members of the House of Representatives clashed over a bill to regulate this growing off-Earth industry.
The SPACE Act of 2015 is the first major commercial space bill since 2004, when SpaceShipOne became the first private crewed vehicle to reach space. US regulations put in place at the time meant that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates the airline industry, would regulate space firms with a light touch as part of a "learning period" designed to let them experiment.
That provision is due to expire later this year, but yesterday the House voted to extend it for another 10 years. The practical implications are that paying customers will fly at their own risk, and that the FAA can only step in after a major accident such as the crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo last year.
Supporters of the bill argue it is too soon to restrict the industry, as no private astronauts have reached space since 2004, and the extension will give firms room to learn and grow. "This bill will encourage the private sector to launch rockets, take risks, and shoot for the heavens," said Lamar Smith, a Republican who chairs the House science committee.To read more, click here.