The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) proposed FY 2017 budget includes a $2 million in spending for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) and a nearly $1 million boost in expenditures for commercial space safety research.
The $19.8 million budget would allow the office to increase its staff to 119 full-time permanent positions in order to deal with a growing workload of permits, licenses, inspections and other responsibilities.
“The AST Total Staff Index compares AST’s on-board year end staffing level to that at the end of 2006,” according to the budget request. “The figure highlights that in FY 2014 AST’s workload for authorizations were up approximately 550%; inspections were up over 825%; and launch and reentry operations were up over 300%, compared to FY2006. However, AST’s staffing was increased only 42% over this same timeframe.”
The expansion of commercial space transportation has included private companies operating on their own as well as NASA, which is increasingly relying on the private sector for commercial launches and cargo flights.
“Many planned missions will include technical and operational dimensions new in the 60-year history of spaceflight, involving an unprecedented level of complexity,” the budget document states. “This includes flyback boosters, autonomous safety systems, high frequency operations at existing airports, and reentries to sites within the Continental United States (CONUS). Funding at the requested level will ensure that AST has the technical, financial, and program support in place to address these activities and ensure public safety.”
AST conducts pre-application consultations with applicants seeking licenses or permits.
There are currently ten launch sites in pre-application consultation with AST. ” In May 2015 AST was engaged in pre-application discussions on 39 distinct projects with companies and other potential applicants such as spaceport authorities,” the budget request said.
The FAA also has proposed boosting the budget for commercial space transportation safety research to $2.953 million, an increase of $953,000 over FY 2016.
“The program in FY 2017 includes both research conducted by the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation (COE CST) and additional research used to mature the COE CST concepts and address other key areas for commercial space operations and regulation,” the document states.