FAA Requests Modest Increase for Commercial Space Office

FAA Requests Modest Increase for Commercial Space Office

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) FY2021 budget request for commercial space activities includes both increases and decreases.  The total of $44.4 million includes funding for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) as well as efforts elsewhere in the agency to integrate launches and reentries into the National Airspace System (NAS) and enhance safety. Some parts did better than others.

The $44.4 million request is down from the $51.54 million appropriated in FY2020.

According to the Department of Transportation’s FY2021 budget highlights released today, the request for AST is $27.6 million.  That’s an increase of $1.6 million over FY2020.  The document says $685,000 of that is for staffing, but not what the rest will fund.  FAA/AST facilitates, promotes and licenses commercial launches and reentries. With the explosive growth in both areas, the office and its industry clients have argued for years that more staff are needed to process applications.  Its budget has grown in the past few years, but ever so slowly. FAA/AST also is in the process of updating and modernizing commercial space launch regulations pursuant to President Trump’s Space Policy Directive 2.  Its first attempt last year was soundly rejected by industry so efforts continue.

The FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) wants a more efficient way to integrate space launches and reentries into the NAS so airplanes do not have to be diverted from their paths so often, or for as long, during space operations.  It is developing a Space Data Integrator (SDI) tool to automate its ability to monitor and respond to those operations and more quickly reopen airspace.  The request, in the Facilities and Equipment (F&E) part of the budget, is $11 million, less than half the $23 million it received for FY2020 as development and testing progress.

The request for commercial space transportation safety in the Research, Engineering & Development (RE&D) portion of the budget, by contrast, is more than twice what was appropriated for FY2020:  $5.8 million instead of $2.5 million.  It funds the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation, which works with university and industry partners to conduct research in areas including aerospace access and operations, aerospace vehicles,  human operations and spaceflight, and industry innovation. FAA requested $6 million for this last year, but Congress keep the budget basically level instead.

The FY2021 request compared to the final congressional appropriations for FY2020 is as follows:

  • $27.6 million requested in Operations for AST, compared to $26.04 million in FY2020
  • $11.0 million requested in F&E for commercial space integration, compared to $23 million in FY2020
  • $5.8 million requested in RE&D for the Center of Excellence, compared to $2.5 million in FY2020

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