FAA Unveils New Committee to Assess Launch Regulations

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is setting up a new committee to enhance its launch licensing requirements. This decision comes after industry officials voiced concerns that the FAA’s 2021 update complicated matters rather than simplifying them. Kelvin Coleman, the Space Chief at the FAA, communicated this during the Commercial Space Transportation Conference, co-organized by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

The committee will concentrate on several key areas. These include devising methodologies for licensing reentry and hybrid vehicles, and creating an alternative licensing mechanism for vehicles still undergoing testing. The committee will also actively seek insights and contributions from the industry to ensure practical and effective implementation.

In 2021, the FAA consolidated four separate rules into a new regulation known as Part 450. This new regulation provides the structure for issuing licenses for launch and reentry missions, assessing public safety risks, and approving operations that do not pose a risk to the general public. Existing licenses will need to comply with the new rules by March 2026. The introduction of these rules marked a shift from prescriptive to performance-based licensing and safety standards. The goal of this shift was to provide launch operators with more flexibility.

However, the new regulation did not achieve the intended objectives. According to Caryn Schenewerk, president of CS Consulting, the updated regulation made the licensing process more time-consuming and expensive. It also decelerated the already slow approval process, with two of the four Part 450 licenses issued in the fall taking longer than the 180-day target.

The FAA licensed a record 124 space operations in 2023, which is three times the number of licenses issued in 2020. Furthermore, this trend shows no signs of slowing down. The FAA expects the number of licensed operations to nearly double again by 2026, highlighting the rapid growth of the space industry and the increasing need for efficient licensing processes. With the establishment of the new committee, the FAA aims to address these challenges and streamline the licensing process for space operations.

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