A commercial astronaut is a person trained to command, pilot, or serve as a crew member of a privately funded spacecraft. This is distinct from an otherwise non-government astronaut—such as Charlie Walker—who flies while representing a non-government corporation, but with funding and/or training coming from government sources.
While the term astronaut is sometimes applied to anyone who trains for travels into space—including scientists, politicians, journalists, and tourists—this article concerns professional astronauts, those who have been selected to train as a profession. This includes both national space programs and private industry programs which train and/or hire their own professional astronauts, irrespective of flight status or whether or not the astronaut has yet gone to space. NASA awards all astronaut candidates silver astronaut wings
upon completion of training. These can be exchanged for gold wings upon completion of the first spaceflight. This is the sole distinguishing feature—both silver and gold-wing carrying astronauts are eligible for the term.
For a separate list of those who have flown in space, see List of space travelers by name. The criteria for determining who has achieved human spaceflight vary. The FAI defines spaceflight as any flight over 100 kilometers (62 mi) of altitude. In the United States, professional, military, and commercial astronauts who travel above an altitude of 80 kilometers (50 mi) are eligible to be awarded astronaut wings. Until 2003, professional space travelers were sponsored and trained exclusively by governments, whether by the military or by civilian space agencies. However, with the first suborbital flight of the privately funded Scaled Composites Tier One in 2004, the category of commercial astronaut was created.
FAA Commercial Astronaut rating
With the advent of private commercial space flight ventures in the U.S., the FAA has been faced with the task of developing a certification process for the pilots of commercial spacecraft. The Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 established the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation and required companies to obtain a launch license for vehicles, but at the time manned commercial flight—and the licensing of crewmembers—was not considered. The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act has led to the issuance of draft guidelines by the FAA in February 2005 for the administration of vehicle and crew certifications.
Currently, the FAA has not issued formal regulatory guidance for the issuance of a Commercial Astronaut Certificate, but as an interim measure, has established the practice of awarding “Commercial Astronaut Wings” to commercial pilots who have demonstrated the requisite proficiency. The content of 14 CFR Part 460 implies that an instrument rating and second-class medical certificate issued within the 12 months prior to the proposed qualifying flight will be included as a minimum standard. Two Commercial Astronaut wings have been awarded to SpaceShipOne pilots Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie.
The space market exceeds $330 billion today. Current estimates show the number growing to nearly $3 trillion over the next three decades. Human spaceflight is one of the sectors positioned for greatest growth. Commercial astronauts are expected to fill the gap in this transition.
Commercial launch providers pursuing manned spaceflight programs for commercial astronauts include include SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing, Virgin Galactic, Scaled Composites and the Sierra Nevada Corporation.
Commercial space stations currently under development include Orion Span's Aurora Space Station, the Axiom International Commercial Space Station, the Bigelow Aerospace B/BA330and BA3100 inflatable space stations.