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GAO: FAA Should Review Regulatory Framework for Space Support Vehicles, Clarify Financial Responsibility Rules to Spaceport Operators

rocket-launchThe Government Accountability Office has recommended the Transportation Department’s secretary to call on the Federal Aviation Administration chief to analyze whether FAA’s regulatory structure is applicable to space support vehicles.

DOT should also suggest modifications to regulations to FAA if it finds that the regulatory framework is not suitable for such vehicles, GAO said in a report published Friday.

GAO made the recommendations after it conducted interviews with NASA and FAA officials as well as 37 officials from space support firms, legal experts and other industry stakeholders and found that FAA regulations pose a market challenge to commercial space companies that seek to receive payments for the use of space support vehicles in passenger and cargo transportation.

Some company officials told GAO that the standard aircraft certification process that FAA’s office of aviation safety implements for space support vehicles “is lengthy and not designed for the type of vehicles they would like to use.”

GAO said in a separate report published Nov. 22 that FAA should also clarify to spaceport operators the agency’s financial responsibility rules for commercial space launches.

The congressional budget watchdog made the suggestion after several spaceport operators said they were not sure whether to buy their own insurance for their property or whether a launch firm’s insurance policy would provide coverage for their property in the event of a space launch mishap.

According to the report, three of the 10 spaceport operators have both liability and property coverage to insure them from losses associated with launch accidents.

GAO also noted that space launch industry stakeholders have different views on the need for changes to the current insurance method, in which spaceport operators and launch companies can negotiate insurance coverage for spaceports through contracts.

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