FAA’s Modernized Space Launch and Reentry Regulations Promise Flexibility

FAA’s Modernized Space Launch and Reentry Regulations Promise Flexibility

The Department of Transportation released updated and streamlined regulations today for the commercial space launch and reentry industry in response to the Trump Administration’s Space Policy Directive-2. Industry reaction to a preliminary version of the regulations last year was quite negative, but government officials said today the final rule responds to those concerns. Industry is getting its first look right now, but so far the reaction is cautious optimism.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA’s) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) regulates, facilitates and promotes the commercial space launch and reentry business. FAA is part of the Department of Transportation.

At an FAA event today, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao called the Streamlined Launch and Reentry Licensing Requirements (SLRLR or SLR2) a “historic, comprehensive update” that will facilitate industry growth and help “America to maintain our #1 position in the world.”

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said the streamlined regulations “couldn’t come at a better time” with 56 launches and reentries forecast next year, up from the “mid 30s this year in 2020” and “when space tourism begins operating in earnest, we’ll probably be topping 100 operations a year.” The regulations simplify the licensing process, but safety remains paramount.

SLR2 supports the needs of this fast moving industry, while ensuring the safety of the public. As you know, safety is, and has been, and will be the Department of Transportation’s and the FAA’s North Star. — Steve Dickson

The new rule updates and consolidates four parts of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR Parts 415, 417, 431 and 435) into a new Part 450. It goes into effect 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

Source: FAA

In addition to the 785-page final rule itself, the FAA will issue a number of Advisory Circulars (ACs). Three ACs were issued today and 24 more are anticipated “within one year or as needed.”

A major goal for industry was to move from the prescriptive rules that have evolved since commercial space launches began in the 1980s to performance-based rules instead. Basically instead of the government setting the rules and telling companies exactly what they must do to comply, the government sets the rules, but allows industry to propose their own methods of compliance.

A preliminary version of this rule, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), released last year was sharply criticized by industry in part because it did not go far enough. FAA/AST head Wayne Monteith said today that his office heard industry “loud and clear” and the final rule is different.

We took parts that were prescriptive, we made them far more performance-based. In many cases, what we did was we shifted some of the prescriptive nature into an Advisory Circular. Now, an Advisory Circular is not regulatory in and of itself, but it is a means to satisfy a safety requirement.

And it is only one means. If industry comes up with a better means, that we can accept and all agree on, then that becomes a means. What this does is give industry, at least right out of the starting gate, at least one way to accomplish the requirement. … I think this is a win-win for all of us. The great thing about Advisory Circulars is they’re almost like living documents and much easier to modify. — Wayne Monteith

Another goal was to eliminate duplicative requirements from different government agencies. Launch operators who use both DOD and NASA launch facilities have had to comply with different rules and submit different sets of paperwork for each. Monteith said the new rule deals with that and if now they find there are others that “are ripe for elimination, or modification, we will absolutely tackle that. There is no reason for industry to have to complete two completely different processes to accomplish the same goal.”

Source: FAA

Commercial Spaceflight Federation President Eric Stallmer was a vocal critical of the NPRM. In an interview today, he expressed optimism while noting that industry is only now getting to see how it turned out.  Joking that he is “looking forward to spending the entire weekend” reading the hefty final product, he also is “upbeat” and “excited” it is done and to “rolling up our sleeves and moving to the next step.”

CSF’s new chairwoman, Audrey Powers, Vice President of Legal and Compliance for Blue Origin, is pleased with the decision to use Advisory Circulars for this new performance-based approach.  “The enabling aspect of performance-based rules is a robust set of Advisory Circulars” that lay out acceptable ways to comply. “These Advisory Circulars are really, really key to all of this working out,” and it is extremely important for FAA to engage with industry in developing them.

The next FAA-sponsored step in the process is a three-day industry workshop from November 4-6 where FAA experts will go through the regulation page-by-page with industry representatives to explain their intent.

From an industry standpoint, the FAA/AST’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) recommended at its last meeting that the FAA create an Aerospace Rulemaking Committee where government and industry can work together to review the final rule, prioritize urgent problems, develop the Advisory Circulars, and draft consensus improvements to the rule. FAA has a number of Advisory and Rulemaking Committees (ARCs) already. This one would be limited to the space industry.

Powers said such a committee is “critical for the success” of the new rule to ensure industry’s understanding of the rule’s intent is correct and, if not, to fix it.  “That can come only through us sitting in the same room and working on it together.”

Mike French, Vice President, Space Systems, at the Aerospace Industries Association, also endorsed the need for an aerospace ARC at the FAA event.

COMSTAC chair Charity Weeden told SpacePolicyOnline.com today that while COMSTAC will certainly be reviewing the new rule for launch and reentry, those are not the only FAA space regulations that need modernizing. Regulations governing spaceports and liability requirements also need attention and COMSTAC will be advising FAA on them, too.

Overall, industry representatives, including Mary Lynne Dittmar, President and CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, are praising the FAA’s efforts, if still withholding judgment on the result since they have not seen it until today.

One area that seems to impress everyone is how quickly, in regulatory terms at least, the final rule was developed. President Trump signed Space Policy Directive-2 in May 2018 instructing the Department of Transportation to streamline and modernize the regulations. FAA issued the NPRM in April 2019 and the final rule today.

Scott Pace, Deputy Assistant to the President and Executive Secretary of the White House National Space Council, added his praise in a statement today, saying the new rule will “ensure the United States remains the flag of choice for the growing commercial space sector.”

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