Bureaucracy Bogs Down Space Business...

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Rutan Criticizes Regs, Regulators

Burt Rutan may have conquered space but he's not so sure he can crack space bureaucracy. The iconic aviation innovator gave legislators an earful last week when he testified before the House Science Committee's space subcommittee. If the government lets him, Rutan envisions a franchise-like system for operators who want to get into the "personal spaceflight" business, with strict controls over equipment, operations and standards emanating from a head office. Such a system could fill a surprisingly large "need" and put up to 100,000 people into suborbital weightlessness within 12 years. Virgin Galactic, which is getting Rutan's Scaled Composites to build spacecraft for its commercial operation, claims 29,000 people have already offered to put up $20,000 deposits on $200,000 flights. This kind of system would be built around reusable space planes, like Rutan's prototype SpaceShipOne, that use already-available runways and other infrastructure. The use of more "conventional" booster rockets and capsules would drastically reduce the potential numbers of participants -- Rutan estimates no more than 500 people a year could make the trip -- and he also believes that one in 25 of them would be killed in the attempt. Ironically, he said, the regulatory system favors the booster/payload method, a system geared to coping with disaster rather than trying to prevent it.