Airspace usage a priority for new commercial industry group chairman

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WASHINGTON — The new chairman of a commercial space industry group says addressing growing demands for airspace, and conflicts with commercial aviation, will be a major priority for him.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) announced Aug. 29 that Taber MacCallum, the co-founder and chief technology officer of stratospheric ballooning company World View Enterprises, will be the chairman of the board of the industry group. He succeeds Alan Stern, another co-founder of World View who is best known as principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission, who was chairman the past two years.

In an Aug. 30 interview, MacCallum said he was asked to take on the role of chairman after serving as a CSF board officer for two years. “It’s an honor to take the position and help here,” he said. “I couldn’t pick a better year. This next year or two is going to be really exciting.”

That excitement, he said, is based on growth in the industry. Within the next year as many as four companies should begin carrying people into space: Boeing and SpaceX with their commercial crew orbital vehicles, and Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic with suborbital spacecraft. “I grew up on the Arthur Clarke vision of commercial space operating like an airline,” he said, something that those companies are taking a “baby step forward” to realizing.

MacCallum
Taber MacCallum. Credit: World View

That growth in activity, though, presents challenges that he believes the industry, through CSF, will need to address. “We’re going to be an increasingly common user of the airspace that we launch through,” he said. “We need to share that safely and efficiently with the airlines, and work with the FAA to become a real partner with the rest of the industry in how we use that airspace.”

Commercial spaceflight has increasingly become a topic of attention, and concern, for commercial aviation. Launches today can force the closure of affected airspace for up to hours at a time, requiring affected flights to be rerouted. That’s a particular issue for launches from Cape Canaveral, where airspace closures can affect traffic on busy East Coast flight corridors.

During a hearing of the aviation subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in June, Tim Canoll, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, cited a 2013 FAA study that found that a single launch caused individual flight delays of up to 23 minutes. That becomes a major problem, he argued, as the number of launches from there increases.

“Given the interest in increasing the number and scale of spaceflight launches, it’s easy to extrapolate the tremendous effect commercial space operations could have on the U.S. airline industry, as well as on its passengers, cargo shippers and workers, if integration isn’t managed correctly,” Canoll said at the hearing.

MacCallum said that the FAA has one of its aviation rulemaking committees looking at the topic, while other efforts are ongoing at ways to reduce both the amount of airspace cordoned off for a launch and its duration. He also advocated for continued development of the NextGen air traffic management system that would, among other things, allow for improved coordination of launches within national airspace.

“Commercial space operators are really the airlines’ greatest ally to getting to next-generation air traffic control,” he said. “NextGen is what enables commercial space to work well within the rest of the national airspace system. Making that relationship work well within the FAA and with the airlines is really a very high priority for us.”

Another priority for CSF, he said, is supporting regulatory reform for the commercial space industry. Space Policy Directive 2, signed by President Trump in May, calls for streamlining launch licensing, commercial remote sensing and other regulations involving the industry.

“That’s been a super opportunity for the industry that I think we’re really able to work with the administration on,” MacCallum said.

He also hopes to expand the ranks of the CSF, which currently has more than 80 members ranging from major aerospace companies to startups and universities. “We need more and more companies to really step up, because as we try to do all of these things, that takes time, effort and resources,” he said. Of particular interest, he added, were companies in the small launch vehicle business as well as suppliers.

MacCallum will retain his job at World View while serving as CSF chairman. That company is “going great,” he said, citing a fundraising round earlier this year and some recent hires, including former Space Systems Loral executive Matteo Genna as senior vice president of engineering and manufacturing.

“We’re in that great period where we’re finishing technology development for our first service,” he said. “It’s an extraordinarily exciting time for us.”