GA On The Verge Of Space

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The FAA hosted a conference this week in Washington, D.C., to work on ways to help facilitate the first privately launched manned space flight, which industry experts expect may be attempted within the year. Panels were held Tuesday and yesterday to discuss new developments in propulsion, system safety and other topics. Meanwhile, a bill now working its way through Congress, the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, recently made it past the House Science Committee, and should help to address some of the regulatory issues. The legislation confirms that the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) has sole authority over suborbital vehicles. The bill would also make it easier to launch new types of reusable suborbital rockets by allowing the AST to issue experimental permits that can be granted more quickly and with fewer requirements than licenses, and would establish some guidelines regarding liability. Twenty-seven teams from seven nations have joined the competition for the $10 million X PRIZE, which aims to promote space travel for the masses. Scaled Composites and Armadillo Aerospace are seen as likely contenders to launch this year, though Armadillo said this week it is having trouble with its engines.