As Pima County’s World view moves closer to entering the space tourism biz, there are regulatory issues to be sorted out.
So last week, World View co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Taber MacCallum testified in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Aviation with suggestions on how the federal government should regulate commercial flights to the edge of space.
Congress first began regulating commercial space traffic in late 1980s as more private operators began launching satellites.
But as years rolled by, more companies started looking at space tourism—or the idea of taking people on a fun (albeit expensive) ride to the edge of space.
So in 2004, Congress established new rules for those companies designed to protect people and property on the ground while allowing passengers to travel at their own risk. It was called a “learning period” as companies developed the technology and aircraft for the job.
“Some really ingenious legislation was crafted in 2004 that basically said that if you’re going to fly humans in space, the FAA will give you a license to do that so you can charge a fee for flying a person into space and we’re going to regulate the safety of people on the ground,” McCallum told the Weekly after his testimony. “But we’re not going to regulate the safety of the people inside the spacecraft because this is sort of like skydiving or other adventure tourism, like scuba diving. We should let this nascent industry evolve and develop new technologies and sort of minimize the regulation.”
That learning period was extended last year until 2023, but MacCallum is hoping to start addressing the next step now. He is suggesting two types of regulation: The current rules would apply for companies like World View, with passengers signing waivers and flying at their own risk. At the same time, companies that want to do upper-atmosphere flights that are designed to transport people from, say, New York to London would be required to get a special license, as they are offering more of a traditional air flight experience, so some of their passengers could be flying because of work obligations or other reasons and not just as space tourists.
World View or its competitors could pursue the more advanced license if they felt it was in their interest.
“Let’s set up these two parallel systems so (future regulation) isn’t such a threat and we can work in a more cooperative sense with the FAA and the rest of the industry,” MacCallum said. “The idea is kind of born out of finding a way to foster the development of these regulations without industry feeling threatened for the process.”
Back here in Tucson, Pima County has begun construction on a building and launch pad that World View will be leasing, with a plan to complete construction by December of this year. The facility is expected to cost an estimated $15 million to build and World View is projected to spend $23.6 million by the end of its 20-year lease, at which point it can buy the headquarters from the county for $10.
World View is not just in the space tourism biz. It also has corporate and government clients and recently unveiled a plan to launch what company officials have dubbed “stratollites,” or high-altitude balloons that can do some of the jobs of satellites at a fraction of the cost.
The company recently landed $15 million in venture capital investment.
The deal between the county and World View is the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, who said the terms of the deal violate the Arizona Constitution’s gift clause and other state laws requiring competitive bidding for property leases. County officials believe they are on solid legal ground and the first court hearing is scheduled for mid-July.
Tucson business leaders have been supportive of the World View lease and have asked the Goldwater Institute to withdraw the lawsuit.
While four of the five supervisors have supported the World View project as a boost to the local economy and an opportunity to develop more high-tech jobs in the region, Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller voted against the contract and celebrated the Goldwater lawsuit.
MacCallum said that he had been out to the construction site it was “great to see that kind of progress.”
He said World View was already hearing from “other industries that are starting to see Tucson as an interesting place to bring manufacturing to. We really hadn’t been in the commercial space arena as a community before but we’re really perfectly set up to do it. Raytheon has created a solid employment base in aerospace and we’ve got fabulous environment for testing and a very business-friendly environment. So we’re starting to get lots of calls—I can’t say any names at this point—but they are from companies that are interested in moving into the new aerospace parkway that the county is putting together.”