Figuring out the ground rules for operating in space falls on the FAA. Unlike NASA, the FAA is a regulatory agency, with powers to license, police and punish offenders. For commercial space, the FAA has an additional role as promoter.
"We're seeing some big changes in the next few years," George Neild, the FAA's associate administrator for commercial space, told Discovery News.
The agency is gearing up for the new world of commercial space with a research consortium, headed by New Mexico State University, that will focus on four areas: space launch operations and traffic management; launch vehicle systems, payloads, technologies and operations; commercial human spaceflight; and space commerce, including space law, space insurance, space policy and space regulation.
Partners in the project include Stanford University, Florida Institute of Technology, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Florida State University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the University of Texas.
The FAA also plans to set up a technical operations center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida if Congress approves funding. In preparation for the shutdown of the shuttle program next year, NASA plans to revamp the spaceport to serve a variety of commercial and government users in the future.