Patti Grace Smith: Extend Indemnification for 10 Years, At least

Patti Grace Smith: Extend Indemnification for 10 Years, At least

Patti Grace Smith called on Congress last week to extend the FAA’s authority to provide third party indemnification for commercial launch services companies for 10 years or, better yet, permanently.

After lengthy debate last year, Congress extended the indemnification authority for only one year – through December 31, 2013 — so the topic is back on the table for consideration this year.

Smith was a witness at a May 16 Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on advancing partnerships in the business of space.   Much of the hearing focused on the nexus between government and commercial space activities in future human space exploration, but she also raised narrower issues important to the commercial space launch industry. 

A former head of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), she is now a consultant to the commercial space industry and chairs the Commercial Space Committee of the NASA Advisory Council.  She also advised the subcommittee that AST should remain a part of the FAA rather than reporting directly to the Secretary of Transportation as it did when it was created in 1984.  She believes that by keeping the office within the FAA, aviation officials are forced to deal with questions about how to integrate commercial space launches into the National Airspace System (NAS) rather than ignoring them.

Eventually AST should “take its rightful, its logical place as another transportation mode” separate from the FAA, but in her view it is better situated within the FAA for now.

Prepared statements of the witnesses and a webcast of the hearing are available on the committee’s website.

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