Industry seeks more time to review revised commercial launch regulations
PASADENA, Calif. — Dissatisfied with the length and content of proposed rules to streamline commercial launch and reentry regulations, industry officials say they will ask for an extension of an ongoing public review period for those rules.
The FAA released April 15 a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would revise regulations for how the agency licenses the launches and reentries of commercial vehicles. That release started a 60-day public comment period that ends June 14.
Industry officials have privately grumbled about the length of the proposed rule, which in a draft released in late March ran for nearly 580 pages. The 60-day comment period, they argued, isn’t long enough to properly review and comment on the draft rules.
“We have a lot of problems with it,” said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, of the NPRM in a talk at the Space Tech Expo here May 21.
One issue with the proposed rules, he said, is that they differ significantly from a proposal developed by an aviation rulemaking committee commissioned by the FAA last year that included representatives of a number of aerospace companies. “We worked collectively to submit this product,” he said. “We provided them with what I think were great recommendations, about 90 pages worth of recommendations on launch and reentry regulations.”
The NPRM published in April, though, was markedly different. “It covered about 50 percent of what we asked for,” he said. “We’re working right now with the FAA and throughout industry to reform these, to get these right.”
Another issue, Stallmer said, is simply how the regulations are crafted, which insert by reference a number of other FAA circulars that companies need to review in addition to the regulations themselves. “It’s going to take a little bit of time to go through all of this,” he said.
That’s a major reason industry is seeking an extension of the 60-day public comment period. “We petitioned the White House on that, and I think they agree with us,” he said.
That extra time is important, he argued, since it’s not clear when there will be another opportunity to revise those launch regulations. While FAA officials had previously discussed their desire to update regulations that in some cases were decades old, the impetus for this current reform came from Space Policy Directive (SPD) 2 one year ago. That directive called on the FAA to streamline rules that would, for example, allow companies to use the same launch license for multiple launch sites, rather than apply for a license for the same vehicle for each site it might launch from.
SPD-2 instructed the FAA, through the Transportation Department, to publish a draft of those revised rules by Feb. 1. The five-week partial government shutdown delayed the formal release of those rules until April 15.
“Sometimes you only get one bite at the apple when rewriting rules, so we really want to make sure we’re as detailed as possible,” Stallmer said. “Who knows when the next opportunity will be?”