The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has revealed elements of the experimental permit rules for space tourism vehicle development, expected to be published on Tuesday 3 April.

It could take up to 120 days to approve a permit for a one-year unlimited flight programme for a specific reusable suborbital rocket design. Applicants must provide a description of the test programme, a flight test plan, operational safety documentation, including hazard analysis, and a plan for responding to a mishap.

“This [experimental permit] has been reviewed and cleared and will be published shortly,” said US FAA office of commercial space transportation associate administrator Patricia Grace Smith, in a speech to the Centre for Strategic Studies on 28 March in Washington DC.

Suborbital tourism company Virgin Galactic has declared an intention to test fly its SpaceShipTwo vehicle with its White Knight 2 carrier aircraft from May 2008. Under the expected rules it would have to start the experimental permit application process by January next year if FAA approval does require 120 days.

Suborbital rocketplane developer Rocketplane-Kistler (RpK) has signed a space act agreement with NASA’s  Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama to employ 200 people at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility for assembling its cargo-carrying two-stage K-1 rocket. K-1 liquid oxygen tanks and external panels are already at Michoud.

RpK’s modified Learjet XP vehicle is in competition with suborbital tourism company Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which is expected to fly from the New Mexico Spaceport Authority’s (NMSA) proposed Spaceport America from 2010.
On 29 March the NMSA announced collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a local historical trail’s advocacy group, CARTA. This collaboration will help NMSA obtain the FAA licence it needs to operate the spaceport by 2009.