Possible Cancellation of Commercial Spaceflights by FAA

by gregpdesrosiers on January 23, 2014 - 6:12pm

Original Article: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/virgin-galactic-space-tourists-could-be-grounded-by-faa-1.2501310


Since 2004, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Group has been looking forward to provide the world's first ever commercial space tourism service, and now the latest model, the SpaceShipTwo, has completed its third powered flight on January 10, 2014.  The only major setback to providing the first ever spaceflight for now: The United States Federal Aviation Administration has not given Virgin Galactic the permit to fly commercially in space.

This summary is based on the article "Virgin Galactic space tourists could be grounded by FAA" written by Lucas Powers of CBC News, which was published on January 17, 2014.

To add to this, the FAA has not set safety rules and regulations on how to properly fly in space territory, which won't be done “until at least October 2015.”

On its latest powered flight, at close to 69,000 feet, the SpaceShipTwo reached Mach 1.4 (about 1700 km/h). 700 people each already paid $250,000 for a ride on Virgin Galactic's latest spaceship to fly in space for the first time. According to Irene Klotz’s article on Reuters called “Virgin Galactic spaceship makes third powered test flight,” the test took place over California’s Mojave Desert.

The decision to be made on providing the license will influence any other corporations interested in building spacecraft for spaceflights such as SpaceX. Virgin Galactic's commercial director, Stephen Attenborough, states that the decision made by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation has to be very prudent on the basis that space travel is very risky, with a concern for creating a disaster that will halt all space transportation. Even with approval, painstaking safety checks must be performed before the spacecraft can finally fly in space in a reliable and safe manner.

Nevertheless, there is at least an audience who is looking forward to public space flight. Sir Richard Branson is looking forward to having the first public flight into space with his two adult children. Even with acknowledgement of having prudence as it is also dangerous to fly in space, Virgin Galactic is optimistic about having an operator's license granted as they had been closely working with the FAA throughout development.

An improvement to this, according to the article, would be to support the Virgin Galactic firm, along with its latest projects, in efforts to earning an official FAA commercial operator's license. It must have been a painstaking process to work on a pioneering project that is not even finished. The question that is left so ambiguous is, if it doesn’t work out, is it worth it? Of course that is more for enthusiasts into space flight; for other people, it's a very different story. Nevertheless, considering that Canada and the United States are developed for science, we may as well give praise to the project.

A more appropriate improvement would be to perform test flights for safety at targeted altitudes so that way necessary parameters can be adjusted before an actual commercial space flight can take place. We still have to take into account possible environmental risks when we are flying in real time. But in general, I think we should just support the company more than before.


More testing is obviously needed before such flights can be performed. As you said, I agree that even if the whole project fails either for mechanical failure or restriction from the FAA, it will still be worth it since it is trying to create something new. Applying technologies previously reserved for governments into commercial and large public uses can only accelerate the development of such technologies. In the future, such aircraft as the SpaceShipTwo could allow extra fast air travel around the Earth, which is used in direct or indirect way by most people.

Intercontinental flights that take less than an hour would be fantastic. Someone could live in America and work in Europe. Even though this seems rather unbelievable, the only way to achieve it is to continue research in the development of supersonic aircrafts. There are currently laws that prevent commercial supersonic aircraft from passing the sound barrier over land because it disturbs people at the ground. The article “Is the future of air travel SUPERSONIC? Scientists are developing transport that travels at super-high speeds without the boom” published on January 22th, 2014 by Graham Warwick observes the different future opportunities and development of supersonic technologies. Again, the problem for such flight is also regulation since the supersonic booms sound levels are too high to be approved over land just like the FAA needs to approve Virgin’s commercial flight over security risks. I think those two similar issues about emerging travel technologies depend on sustainable development. If a first attempt succeeds then the technology is most likely to rise interest and to undergo faster development. On the other hand, if the first commercial space flight results in a catastrophe, the security measures will probably be heightened and the development will be set back. It is only a question of when it will really be ready for a complete success and making sure it won’t happen too soon to prevent a disaster.

Here is a link to Warwick’s article:


About the author

English college student in Computer Science and Mathematics.