Senate Appropriators Urge DOT To Reconsider Draft Commercial Space Launch Rules

Senate Appropriators Urge DOT To Reconsider Draft Commercial Space Launch Rules

The Senate Appropriations Committee is urging the Department of Transportation (DOT) to reconsider its draft rules to modernize commercial space launch regulations. The committee’s report on the Transportation-HUD (THUD) bill, released today, echoes criticism from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) that the draft fails to create an improved regulatory environment for the industry.  The committee also provided more funding than requested for the FAA’s space office, but less for commercial space integration into the National Airspace System (NAS).

President Trump’s Space Policy Directive-2 instructed the Department of Transportation (DOT) to modernize its regulations for the commercial space launch and reentry business. DOT is the parent of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) facilitates, regulates and promotes the commercial space launch industry.

DOT issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) earlier this year.  In a report to the White House National Space Council on August 20, DOT General Counsel Steven Bradbury said comments were received from dozens of companies, organizations or individuals.

CSF was one of them.  In testimony to a House committee in July, CSF President Eric Stallmer said the new proposed regulations “in some ways are worse than today’s obsolete rules.”

The Senate committee report language (S. Rept. 116-109) follows that theme.

Prior to drafting the rulemaking, the FAA convened an Aviation Rulemaking Committee [ARC] consisting of both traditional and emerging commercial space companies. However, the draft rule does not include relevant language approved by a majority of ARC members, and as a result, the proposed rule fails to implement a streamlined and performance based approach to regulating an industry whose continued growth and innovation is critical to national security and civilian space exploration. The draft rule creates unnecessary barriers to entry for new companies, may prevent many operators from achieving or maintaining flight rates and cost efficiencies to support new space applications and markets, and fails to address the application of the regulations to future space port locations. The Committee encourages the FAA to reconvene the Streamlined Launch and Reentry Licensing Requirements ARC and consider a supplemental NPRM prior to issuing a final rule in order to meet an artificial deadline. — Senate Appropriations Committee

In his comments to the Space Council, Bradbury acknowledged that DOT understands there is more to be done. He said they are digesting all the comments and will be “hard at work” over the next several months to “address concerns and consider potential revisions to improve the final rule.”  He now has congressional direction to do just that.

At the August meeting he said the goal now is to publish a final rule by “early fall of next year,” more than a year away.

As for FY2020 funding, the committee provided slightly more for FAA/AST in the FAA’s Operations budget:  $26.040 million compared to the $25.598 million requested.

FAA’s request includes funding in two other accounts for commercial space launch-related activities as well: Facilities and Equipment (F&E) and Research, Engineering & Development (RE&D).

Its total FY2020 request in all three accounts was $64.6 million.

Of that, $33 million in the F&E budget was for development of a Space Data Integrator to enable the FAA to safely reduce the amount of airspace that must be closed to other users, release airspace that is no longer at risk as a mission progresses, and build the foundation for integrating commercial space operations into the airspace.  The committee provided $23 million instead.

It also requested $6 million for AST’s Center of Excellence in the RE&D budget to support integration of launch and reentry into the NAS, advanced safety assessment methods, advanced vehicle safety methodologies, and human spaceflight safety.  The committee provided only $2.5 million, the same as FY2019.

In total, the committee provided $51.540 million, about $13 million less than requested.


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