Editorial | FAA over-regulation threatens America’s future in commercial space

President Biden’s National Space Council needs to move the Commercial Space Transport Authority from under the FAA

We have reached a turning point in commercial space transportation, and regulatory thinking is reacting in a potentially negative way. The commercially offered launch rhythm surpassed the government’s rocket launch many years ago, and now we see the phenomenon extend to manned spaceflight.The FAA office for commercial space transportation (AST) Issuing licenses and permits faster than ever, just as airline travelers fly back to the sky in large numbers. The FAA and AST will be busy doing the usual good job of keeping the public safe on the ground and on planes during launch and re-entry events.

I recently had a very personal view of the interface between our country’s airspace and the increasing rhythm of commercial spaceflight. On April 8th, I flew just west of the Kennedy Space Center and wanted a glimpse of the Space Launch System rocket from the coach seat. On a clear day, I could clearly see the huge Space Shuttle Assembly Building and the “Mega Moon Rocket”.To my surprise, I happened to catch SpaceX Falcon 9 Axium Mission 1 (Ax-1) To the ISS. I casually told my neighbor, “Hey, my friend Mike is flying into space.”

I was referring to Ax-1 Mission Commander Michael Lopez Alegria. Known in the space community, Mike LA was previously Vice-Chairman of the Commercial Space Transport Advisory Board (COMSTAC). He is currently concluding his duties as Chairman of the Safety Working Group. COMASTAC will meet in Washington earlier this month to discuss a variety of issues related to commercial spaceflight, including industry best practices for ensuring the safety of spaceflight participants (SFPs), also known as “commercial astronauts.” Advised the Ministry of Transport. As always for this group of space experts, the conference was very productive, but revealed a lot about the future direction of manned spaceflight regulation.I take this opportunity Express my growing concerns With the increase in the invasion of “FAA Mindset” into AST.

COMSTAC was founded in 1984 to provide information, advice, and recommendations to the US Secretary of Transportation and AST on important matters regarding the US commercial space transportation industry. I have been with COMSTAC for four years and am honored to recently chair the Safety Working Group. There is no choice but to praise AST’s professional performance.I publicly defended them Regulatory work from criticism And he often focused on AST’s success in establishing the space launch regulation environment that is the envy of the space world. Few industries are eager for companies to find manufacturing in the United States.

To be clear, FAA does a great job of keeping mature transportation systems incredibly safe. However, due to the regulations of FAA, there is no big change in this industry. The design of the aircraft is so similar that most passengers will probably not know the make or model of the aircraft in flight. FAA moves carefully and slowly.New system like Nextgen Air traffic management and deployment will take decades.

However, the culture of this normative rule and its obsession with passenger safety is a mandated role in AST’s Congress to encourage, promote and support the early US private spaceflight industry at all costs. Is the exact opposite. This is an industry that tests disruptive technologies and new business models. There is no “dominant design” for fixing and defining detailed normative rules. Doing so undermines innovation and is more dangerous in the long run than allowing current levels of experimentation. Imagine the FAA looking at Wright and Curtis planes and setting regulations in 1912. There are rules regarding the quality of wood and cloth that should be used in the construction of aircraft. Passengers may be assigned very well-defined goggles, scarves and helmets while the FAA “continues to investigate” the safety hazards of closed cabins.

In the early days, constant experimentation and acceptance of failures are important for developing reliable systems. It is not possible to adjust the safety to an immature system. You need to develop it from the lessons learned. There are no reviews, hearings, or committees to make the Space Shuttle a truly safe vehicle. By moving slowly and flying, less learning is reduced. Flight cadence is important for finding better designs and best practices.

Like the NASA shuttle team, FAA’s talented people aren’t programmed to overcome decades of cultural inertia and suddenly “think differently” about safety. The Commercial Space Transport Authority should be led by people in the space industry, not by people in the plane. However, the exact opposite is happening. FAA’s new adjutant, Michael O’Donnell, is an airplane safety officer with no apparent space experience. This doesn’t surprise me. I interviewed for a top job at AST a few years ago and was disappointed to be faced with a panel made up entirely of “airplane” people. There was no space expert. My efforts to discuss the benefits of economic development and the space industry to our country and the planet were quickly returned to the topic “Safety of our country’s airspace.”

This should not happen because the AST should not be located within the FAA. When the Commercial Space Transport Authority was established during the Reagan administration, it was clearly decided to keep it out of the hands of FAA bureaucrats who would ensure that the growth of the commercial spaceflight industry would be curtailed if it emerged. I did. AST was founded as an independent office and was initially headed by Jenna Dawn, a special aide to the then Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole. Courtney Stud, who oversaw the AST from 1986 to 1988, told me he fought against the early offices included in the FAA. However, in the 1990s, AST was demoted to FAA when then Vice President Al Gore took on the task of “reinventing” the government. Its sister organization, the Office of Space Commerce (OSC), was similarly pushed into NOAA.

These demotions were the tragic decisions we are currently paying as the commercial space industry grows rapidly in ways that go beyond the management experience of FAA or NOAA.Bank of America Forecast $ 2.7 trillion space economy.. That’s the whole UK economy. Most of that income, work, and tax revenue is lost to the United States. The surest way for the United States to lose is to create a pesky regulatory environment that scares investment and drives launches into space to convenience-flagged vessels.

During the last administration, I and others demanded an executive order to revoke these moves. I strongly recommend that the Biden National Space Council move quickly to bring the AST and OSC back to a position worthy of the growing importance of the commercial space industry. As with the original demotion, returning the office to its original position is a change that can be achieved through the White House Executive Order or simply as a secretarial action.Congress may also tackle this issue, and I was happy to meet Congressman Brian Babin (Republican) recently. Ask for OSC move From NOAA. In any case, let’s start to adapt the regulatory structure to the needs of the industry. Our international competitors, especially China, are not resting in space.in the meantime China’s space safety practices are terribleThe United States has demonstrated that we can keep the public safe and enable powerful experiments in spacecraft design.


Greg Autry is a professor of space leadership at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. He joined the NASA Transition Team in 2016 as NASA’s White House Liaison and as Chair of the Safety Working Group of FAA’s Commercial Space Transport Advisory Board.

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