FAA: Commercial space launch regulations ‘in final coordination’

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Monteith said the FAA sought to strike a balance between the need to ensure public safety and a desire to create an environment where the industry can thrive.

WASHINGTON — The updated commercial space launch regulations released Oct. 15 by the Federal Aviation Administration are “in final coordination” and will be officially posted for public comment in the coming weeks, said Wayne Monteith, the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation.

“Part 450 is in the queue at the office of the Federal Register,” Monteith said Nov. 18 at the Ascend virtual conference hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

“We expect it will be published in the next few weeks,” he said. The rules would take effect 90 days after that.

Part 450 consolidates into a single regulation four launch and reentry licensing rules that the FAA began to rewrite two-and-a-half years ago. 

Monteith said the revised rule takes into account the commercial launch industry’s demands for change from a “prescriptive” approach to launch licensing to one that is “performance based.”

Other key revisions, for example, allow a single operator’s license to be used for multiple launches from multiple sites, said Monteith. “It eliminates duplicative requirements in different launch ranges, and reduces regulatory language by about 85 percent.”

Monteith said the FAA in rewriting the regulations sought to strike a balance between the need to ensure public safety and a desire to create an environment where the industry can thrive.

The rapid growth in the space industry and the deployment of huge constellations of satellites is “great but it complicates the ability to safely get to or through orbits,” said Monteith.

At the same time, “the worst thing we can do for this industry is to over-regulate to the point where we are not increasing the effectiveness of safety but creating hurdles to innovative companies or putting undue bureaucratic overhead on our existing companies.”

The FAA so far this year has licensed 32 launches, including SpaceX’s Crew-1 NASA mission Nov. 15 which was the first orbital crewed mission licensed by the FAA. The agency is responsible for public safety during launch and reentry.

Monteith said he expects his office to license 40 launches by year’s end. By comparison, 26 launches were licensed in 2019.

“We’re at an inflection point in this industry,” Monteith said. “It’s only going to get more complicated to get to space safely.”

He noted that in 2011 the FAA licensed a single commercial launch: a Zenit rocket on a Sea Launch platform in the Pacific Ocean.