Suborbital space planes have flight trajectories that often differ from conventional aircraft, but until now, the Federal Aviation Administration was unable to take that into account when studying potential obstructions near space ports, such as electrical transmission towers or other tall structures.
President Barack Obama on Monday signed into law a bill sponsored by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, that gives the FAA the authority to consider impacts on space operations in any study intended to determine whether a proposed structure interferes with such operations.
The new law could impact the Mojave Air and Space Port as well as other American space ports established at existing airports, which are classified as “General Aviation” facilities.
“Mojave Air and Space Port is pleased to see another positive step forward in protecting the operational investment by so many, government and private sector alike,” its CEO, Karina Drees, said in a statement.
Indeed, Drees told The Californian earlier this year that she and other space port officials had concerns about the construction of electric transmission lines near the airport.
This bill is just the latest in McCarthy’s continued efforts to bring more regulatory certainty to the burgeoning commercial space industry. The Mojave facility is in his district.
“With the president’s signature on this legislation, our spaceports will be able to prioritize safety and minimize the risk of structures interfering with the flight path of spacecraft on launch or reentry,” McCarthy said Tuesday in a statement.
“Ingenuity has helped push the commercial space flight innovators to new heights and this legislation, along with the comprehensive SPACE Act that was signed into law last year, ensures our government policies keep up with the progress,” he said.
The bill, H.R. 6007, gives the secretary of transportation the authority to conduct aeronautical studies at spaceports, allowing the FAA to study the potential impact of structures on spacecraft arriving or departing from a licensed launch site. The new law requires rulemaking to implement this requirement within 18 months of enactment.
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, which have huge investments in facilities located in Mojave, lauded the majority leader for his commitment “to helping keep Mojave at the forefront of commercial spaceflight.
“This bill,” Whitesides said, “will help ensure that spaceports like ours are able to operate without fear of encroachment.”
Eric W. Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a nonprofit advocate for private space exploration and development, said in a statement that the new law “provides regulatory clarification important to the future of the commercial space industry in the United States.
Gliding spacecraft and large transport aircraft require protection from obstacles, including power lines, wind turbines and cell towers in close proximity to runways, Stallmer said.
"While current law is well-defined for airports, it does not effectively encompass spaceports. This legislation provides a standard, effective obstruction evaluation framework for spaceports.”