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 fly while representing a non-government corporation but with funding and/or training coming from government sources.
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 sub-orbital flight of the privately funded Scaled Composites Tier One in 2004, the commercial astronaut category 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 infers 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 awards have been made. They are SpaceShipOne pilots Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie.