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Mojave Moves Towards Being Space Center

This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press on Saturday, November 22, 2003.

By ALLISON GATLIN
Valley Press Staff Writer

MOJAVE - Making Mojave a center for commercial space flight is
progressing on two bureaucratic fronts. Advancing one more step toward its goal of operating a reusable space launch vehicle, Mojave-based XCOR Aerospace has submitted the
first "sufficiently complete" application for a suborbital launch license to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"It's a very preliminary step," said XCOR's CEO Jeff Greason.

The administration may still request information from the company while reviewing the application.

"Because no one has ever done this before, there's a lot of uncertainty about what we need to give these guys," Greason said.

The FAA is required to rule on the application within 180 days, or by April 23, 2004. If the application is denied, the administration must report to Congress why. "It's not something they're going to do lightly or capriciously," he said.

XCOR manufactures reusable rocket engines, and is working on development of a vehicle for commercial space travel. The company successfully demonstrated its rocket technology with the EZ-Rocket, a rocket-powered airplane piloted by Dick Rutan.

The launch application is for an intermediate technology demonstrator, not the future Xerus vehicle intended to carry passengers.

"We knew this would likely be the first (application) to reach this point," Greason said. "We structured it with an eye toward using it for a later application" for the Xerus or other future vehicles.

XCOR has been involved in the process to establish the standards for FAA regulation of the emerging commercial space industry.

The only space-related line of business within the FAA, the office of associate administrator for commercial space transportation, was established as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation and transferred to the FAA in 1995. The office is responsible for licensing
commercial launches of orbital rockets and suborbital sounding rockets.

In July, Greason testified before a joint hearing of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics and the Senate Subcommittee on Science Technology and Space on the licensing issue. At the core of the regulatory debate was the definition of the suborbital spacecraft
proposed by XCOR and other such enterprises. Depending on the definition, different branches of the FAA claim jurisdiction.

"As far as the FAA is concerned, they have resolved that," Greason said. A suborbital vehicle is defined as those that are kept in the air more by rocket-powered thrust than by lift. In contrast, an airplane is a vehicle kept in the air by lift.

For the FAA, airplanes face much tougher standards for licensing, standards that would make the fledgling space industry impossible, according to testimony in the July hearing.

While XCOR's licensing is moving forward, so is the process for making its base, the Mojave Airport, the nation's first inland spaceport. The FAA and East Kern Airport District, which governs the airport, have prepared a draft environmental assessment and negative declaration for the spaceport project. The assessment has determined that no significant environmental impacts would result from this project.

A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Dec. 10 from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Mojave Recreation Building, 15580 O St. A second public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. at the EKAD offices at the Mojave Airport, during the district board of directors' regular meeting.

If granted, the space launch site operator license would allow EKAD to operate a space launch facility at the airport.

The FAA may also issue launch licenses to individual operators for launch from the Mojave Airport. The license would allow launch of suborbital rockets and testing of rocket engines.

For a space launch, a license is required for both the operator's vehicle and the launch facility.

The vehicle license ensures the craft poses no threat to public safety, Greason said.

The facility license, commonly referred to as a spaceport license, deals more with the safety of the ground facilities, such as propellent storage. Both require environmental impact reviews, although these usually apply more directly to the ground facility than the vehicle,
Greason said.

Copies of the environmental assessment and negative declaration are available at the EKAD offices, 1415 Flightline Road in Mojave.

Comments on the document must be received by Dec. 12.

A comment form is available on the FAA Web site at http://ast.faa.gov.

For further information, contact Michon Washington, FAA Environmental
Specialist, Mojave Airport EA, c/o ICF Consulting, 9300 Lee Highway,
Fairfax, VA, 22031, or by e-mail at mojave.ea@icfconsulting.com. The
phone number is (800) 767-9956; fax is (800) 380-1009.

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