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The Beyond Earth Institute (Beyond Earth) will be hosting a virtual policy event titled “Human Spaceflight Safety, in Concept & Practice: Which Way Forward?” on May 24, 2023 from 1:00pm-2:30 pm Eastern Time via Zoom. The event is free with donations suggested.

Years in the making, the commercial human spaceflight sector is finally lifting off. Blue Origin has had several successful suborbital flights with paying participants, and Virgin Galactic has scheduled their first operational flight for later this month. SpaceX is flying ambitious, fully private orbital missions as well as delivering NASA and international crew members to and from the International Space Station. Both Boeing and Sierra Nevada are developing their own crewed systems.

As this sector grows, questions and debate – philosophical, political, and practical - about how government policy should promote improved occupant safety are coming to the fore. Should the status quo restriction on regulation of vehicle design, manufacturing, and operation continue? What is the role of industry safety standards, and should the government seek authority to enforce them? Are unrestricted innovation and competition the best path to safety, or should the federal government be granted authority and responsibility for the safety of commercial human spaceflight?

When Congress passed the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, it recognized that commercial human spaceflight was an experimental and risky activity. However, Congress also required operators to inform customers of their safety records so people could make an informed choice based on levels of risk. And for some number of years, the Secretary of Transportation could only regulate operators in response to a demonstrated problem (in a flight accident or safety incident).

That spaceflight regulatory "learning period," restricting the FAA from issuing operating requirements and design regulations for human occupant safety, is now scheduled to expire in the fall of this year. Proponents of the learning period maintain that the human spaceflight industry is still too immature, technologies and designs still too iterative, and best practices still in rapid flux to be subject to prospective safety regulations. Others, including the FAA and a recent RAND report, conclude that, despite a limited body of reference knowledge and nascent industry consensus standards, the time is right to enable unrestricted regulation. Still others believe that this is a false choice, arguing that allowing more regulation will not replace or strengthen the informed consent regime, nor is regulatory authority necessary to take other steps to promote safety.

This Beyond Earth Institute conversation convenes leading experts in space policy, regulation, and law - who have firsthand experience with human spaceflight safety policies and regulations from their work in industry and on Capitol Hill - for a nuanced look at the topic broadly. How should we approach the notion of human spaceflight safety and "risk?" What is, or should be, the appropriate role of a regulator and regulations? How important, if at all, are enforced (as opposed to voluntary) industry safety standards for the future of humans living and working in space? Throughout the discussion, panelists will address the implications of ending the learning period, strengthening or replacing the informed consent regime, and the impacts these and other options may have on the future of commercial human spaceflight.



  • Moderator: Courtney Stadd,  Vice President, Beyond Earth
  • Jim Muncy, Principal, PoliSpace
  • Caryn Schenewerk, President, CS Consulting
  • George Nield, President, Commercial Space Technologies, LLC
  • Bruce McClintock, Senior Policy Researcher, RAND

Registration for this event has passed

24 May 2023
1:00pm - 2:30pm EDT

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