Disagreement over safety rules for the embryonic suborbital space tourism industry could see enabling legislation delayed well into US President George Bush's second term. Any lengthy impasse on the commercial space bill could delay vehicle development because of the legal uncertainty.

Negotiations between Senate and House of Representatives staff over safety rules need to succeed if lawmakers are to vote on the bill in the post-election "lame duck" legislative period, which started on 2 November and lasts until the start of the new presidential term in early 2005. If a vote is delayed beyond then, the bill will become subject to the new presidential agenda and may be delayed indefinitely.

"The House wants tourists to give informed consent with no safety guarantee, while members of the Senate want a stronger safety regime," says a lobbyist involved in the negotiations. The possible delay is also worrying potential financial backers of private spaceflight, with industry concerned that inflexible rules could serve as a disincentive for investment.

The bill, proposed two years ago, was previously held up by last-minute industry intervention regarding suborbital vehicle definitions (Flight International, 31 August-6 September). In a related move, Congress has renewed the government's indemnification cover for the US satellite launching industry.

Source: Flight International