The House has approved an amendment that would partially restore a requested funding increase for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). The amendment offered by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) would add $250,000 to the office’s budget.
Citing a sharp increase in workloads, the Obama Administration had asked Congress for an additional $1.5 million for Fiscal Year 2016 in order to hire an additional 13 full-time employees for FAA AST. Officials say the plan is to eventually hire 25 full-time staffers.
“FY 2014 was a very busy year for commercial space with a total of 19 licensed or permitted launches. That is more than six times the level of activity that we had in 2012, which only had three licensed or permitted launches,” said FAA-AST Associate Administrator George Nield during the FAA’s 18th Commercial Space Transportation Conference in February.
“We have essentially been relatively flat in terms of resources in recent years,” he added. “At the same time, we’ve seen that activity level increase by a factor of six. We have been looking at improvements in terms of the different ways to do business to try to stay up with the pace.”
FAA-AST Deputy Associate Administrator Shana Dale said the office’s workload had increased dramatically.
“From fiscal year 2010 to 2012, we were floating around four to five to three launches per year,” she said. “Then the spike happened in 2013, and now we are projecting between 20 and 30 launches. That increase in sheer numbers of launches translates also into increased workload for the entire office. In safety inspections, we grew from 81 inspections in FY 2012 up to 143 of the 223 by the time we hit FY 2014. That’s just an indication of the growing workload that is happening within the office.”
Dale said the FAA currently has 30 proposals undergoing pre-application consultations, many of which involve entrepreneurs who are unfamiliar dealing with government. FAA personnel work with them to ensure their applications are complete and can be accepted by the agency.
“The first part of this story is about sheer numbers, the second part is about diversity and complexity in this industry,” Dale added. “And it is very different from when I was on the Hill, when we were dealing with expendable launch vehicles. Now you’re talking about suborbital space tourism companies, different vehicle designs, first stages, landing on barges, reusability, commercial crew, commercial cargo, balloon launches up into the stratosphere, and a host of other things. That complexity and diversity impacts the entire office.”
The decision to increase funding was praised by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF).
“CSF applauds the passage of the Bridenstine-Rohrabacher-Posey amendment,” said CSF President Eric Stallmer. “Congressman Bridenstine and his fellow cosponsors have consistently championed pro-growth policies that enable the commercial space industry to continue to innovate, and we thank them for their leadership. CSF looks forward to working with Congressman Bridenstine, his fellow cosponsors, and Chairman Diaz-Balart as the appropriations process continues to ensure that the government has the necessary funding to be a stable and helpful partner in the economic development of space.”