US Transportation Secretary announces commercial space transportation reforms

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao today announced the publication of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Streamlined Launch and Reentry Licensing Requirements Final Rule for commercial space transportation launches and reentries.

historic, comprehensive update to commercial space launch and reentry licensing
requirements facilitates greater growth in this industry and helps America to
maintain our #1 position in the world,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary
Elaine L. Chao.

This rule modernizes the way FAA regulates and licenses commercial space operations and allows the burgeoning aerospace industry to continue to innovate and grow, while maintaining public safety. 

Assistant to the President and Executive Secretary of the National Space
Council Dr. Scott Pace said, “In meeting the President’s mandate in Space
Policy Directive-2 to streamline regulations on commercial spaceflight, the
Department of Transportation is strengthening the United States’ continued
leadership in space commerce. I commend Secretary Chao, the Department, and the
Office of Commercial Space Transportation for updating launch regulations and
licensing to ensure the United States remains the flag of choice for the
growing commercial space sector.”

new rule consolidates four regulatory parts and applies a single set of
licensing and safety regulations for all types of vehicle operations. It also
provides flexibility for operators to meet safety requirements. The rule
improves efficiency by encouraging launch and reentry operators to suggest and
implement design and operational solutions to meet the regulatory standards.

rule paves the way for an industry that is moving at lightning speed,” said FAA
Administrator Steve Dickson. “We are simplifying the licensing process and
enabling industry to move forward in a safe manner.” 

final rule’s improved application processes allow:

  • A single
    operator’s license that can be used to support multiple launches or
    reentries from potentially multiple launch site locations.
  • Early review
    when applicants submit portions of their license application
  • Applicants
    to negotiate mutually agreeable reduced time frames for submittals and application
    review periods.
  • Applicants
    to apply for a safety element approval with a license application, instead
    of needing to submit a separate application.
  • Additional
    flexibility on how to demonstrate high consequence event protection.
  • Neighboring
    operations personnel to stay during launch or reentry in certain
  • Ground
    safety oversight to be scoped to better fit the safety risks and reduce
    duplicative requirements when operating at a federal site.

This rule will become effective 90 days after publication in the Federal Register. The FAA will initially seek public comment (for a period of 30 days) on three Advisory Circulars  (ACs) on the following topics:  High Consequence Protection (PDF), High Fidelity Flight Safety Analysis (PDF), and Computing Systems and Software (PDF). The FAA may issue updated versions of these ACs if warranted based on comments received.  Each AC will contain a feedback form with specific instructions on how to provide comments to the FAA on that AC.

Twenty-four additional ACs will be published within one year or as needed. Legacy licenses can still be used for up to five years after the rule’s effective date. FAA is responsible for ensuring the protection of the public, property, national security and foreign policy interests of the U.S. during commercial launch or reentry activities. The agency also encourages, facilitates, and promotes U.S. commercial space transportation. To date, FAA has licensed or permitted more than 380 launches and reentries.

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