Mojave Spaceport Under FAA Scrutiny

Following the fatal accident at Mojave Air and Space Port in July, a big question on the regulatory side was what if anything, would FAA/AST do?

Less than a week after the
tragic explosion during a test at Mojave that took the lives of three and seriously injured three other Scaled Composites workers, FAA/AST chief Patti Smith told Space News her office would defer to state authorities including California Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigating the accident who, she said, "indicate this was an industrial accident, a fuel-flow test gone terribly wrong."

Smith said: "It was not a launch accident. It was not a flight accident. It was not directly related to vehicle performance or passenger involvement."

But now her office wants more information from the spaceport. And Mojave's
license, issued by FAA June 17, 2004, may be in jeopardy. Here is Leonard David's blog report:
Looks like a battle brewing over future use of the Mojave Spaceport, home site for development of the suborbital SpaceShipTwo and other private space ventures.

According to Bill Deaver, editor/publisher of the Mojave Desert News, an above the fold story in his paper [full text not available online --JL] is reporting that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bureaucracy threatens the Mojave Air and Space Port.

At the heart of the issue are requests for information apparently due to two explosions at the airport earlier this year. One of those involved propulsion/fueling equipment for the SpaceShipTwo program under development by Scaled Composites. That accident in July claimed the lives of workers on the project.

The newspaper reports that Stuart Witt, General Manager of the Mojave Air and Space Port, has stated the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) has threatened to suspend or revoke their spaceport license.

AST officials want information on fuels to be used in space vehicles currently under development at the spaceport, along with information on how far away the materials must be stored from other airport activities.

Another AST demand, the newspaper also reports, centered on how local space operations would comply with national fire code rules. However, according to Witt, the newspaper states, information on fuels is not available as rocket groups at the spaceport are not that far along on their current design and development process.

“I think it’s time for us to make a trip to Washington to meet with members of Congress,” the newspaper quotes Witt as saying.

Sure to be more coming in the days to come on this spaceport situation.

It's not clear what Congress might be expected to do for the spaceport. Given AST's well-earned rep for being uncompromising on public safety while, in equal measure, fair and supportive with the young an growing industry it oversees, there should be some hope for a positive outcome.

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