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Is Washington ready for space tourism to take off?

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When Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos blasts off on Tuesday with three other space tourists, a nascent industry will take a major step toward realizing its out-of-this-world dreams.

Can Washington catch up?

The first human space flight for the New Shepard will come on the heels of Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson’s historic trip to the edge of space last week aboard the rocketship SpaceShipTwo.

Together, the milestones are predicted to boost consumer confidence and propel further development of new spacecraft to support a global transportation system via low-Earth orbit.

But many space policy experts and members of oversight committees in Congress are concerned that the government isn’t prepared for it — especially the office at the Federal Aviation Administration that is responsible for regulating the new industry, but is widely viewed as overworked and understaffed.

Whether ensuring public safety, managing growing space traffic or mitigating environmental hazards, there is no framework for regulating private space travel. And while many experts say the industry is still too new to settle on details, they contend federal agencies are already way behind.

“There are many open questions,” said Laura Seward Forczyk, founder of Astralytical, an aerospace consulting firm. “There will come a time when the U.S. government, the FAA, will decide that it needs to regulate this sector in a way that is close to the airline industry. It is not going to be perfectly safe initially — no one expects it to be — but it needs to become safer as it becomes less experimental.

“All of these flights are still labeled as test flights,” she added. “These passengers at some point are going to expect a level of safety that is not currently achievable. When it becomes achievable, I don’t know.”

Keeping passengers alive is a main concern — both in the spacecraft as well as in commercial airplanes sharing some of the same airspace. In the months and years ahead, as spaceports and space flights carrying tourists or cargo become more frequent, they will require designated corridors for takeoff and landing.

The FAA has authority to regulate commercial spacecraft........

© Politico

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