FAA Licenses Rocket Lab Launches From New Zealand

First Electron rocket on launch pad. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

The Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) has licensed Rocket Lab for three test launches of its Eloctron booster from New Zealand.

The license, issued on May 15, authorizes the new booster to carry inert payloads into Earth orbit on each of the flights.

Rocket Lab has established a 10-day window beginning on May 22 for the maiden flight of the new booster. Electron is designed to place payloads weighing up to 150 kg  (330 lb) into a 500 km (311 mile) sun-synchronous orbit.

The flights by the New Zealand-American company will take place from a launch pad on Mahia Peninsula on Hawkes Bay.

AIA Policy Recommendations for Improving U.S. Space Competitiveness


Engine for Growth:
Analysis and Recommendations for U.S. Space Industry Competitiveness

Aerospace Industries Association
May 2017
[Full Report]

Policy Recommendations
for Strengthening U.S. Space Competitiveness

1. Level the Playing Field

Provide a responsive regulatory environment for commercial space activities. The list of commercial space activities is varied and growing, ranging from traditional applications such as satellite telecommunications to emerging ones like space resource utilization. At the same time, the U.S. space industry is governed by multiple federal agencies with disparate regulatory interests, including the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration and Departments of State and Commerce. These agencies often suffer from funding and staffi ng shortages, a situation that creates bottlenecks in licensing processes and slows responsiveness to technological and market changes. The new Administration should work closely with Congress to ensure that the appropriate space regulatory agencies are fully resourced and staffed.
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A Look at Launches in 2016

Atlas V launches the NROL-61 satellite. (Credit: ULA)

Excerpt from

The Annual Compendium of
Commercial Space Transportation: 2017
Federal Aviation Administration
Office of Commercial Space
Transportation (FAA AST)

January 2017

2016 Launch Events

Space launch activity worldwide is carried out by the civil, military, and commercial sectors. This section summarizes U.S. and international orbital launch activities for calendar year 2016, including launches licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST). Countries and jurisdictions worldwide that possess functional and operating indigenous launch industries are the United States, Russia, China, European Union, India, Japan, Israel, Iran, North Korea, and South Korea. Several other countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Indonesia, are developing launch vehicle technologies.

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Branson Still Doesn’t Really Understand Why SpaceShipTwo Crashed

SpaceShipTwo breaks up. (Credit: NTSB)

Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson was interviewed for the Jan. 30 edition of NPR’s “How I Built This” podcast. Beginning at 25:44, there’s a brief discussion of the October 2014 crash that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed co-pilot Mike Alsbury.

Branson recalls that for the first 12 hours after the accident he wasn’t sure if the SpaceShipTwo program would continue. “But, once we realized it was a pilot error and not a technical error, I was able to tell all the engineers it was nothing to do with them. And that the basic craft was sound.”

Alas, most of this explanation is wrong.

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White House Announces $110 Million in New Smallsat Investments

Spacecraft specialists prepare spacecraft to perform the Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN) mission. (Credit: NASA Ames Research Center)
Spacecraft specialists prepare spacecraft to perform the Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN) mission. (Credit: NASA Ames Research Center)

Federal Agencies announce more than $100 million in new investments to develop small satellite systems and technology.

by Thomas Kalil
Deputy Director for Policy
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

This past October, the White House announced the “Harnessing the Small Satellite Revolution” initiative. As part of the initiative, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and other Federal agencies identified multiple opportunities to encourage both government and private sector use of small spacecraft for a variety of applications, some of which were showcased at The White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh.

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FAA Awards Operator License to Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

MOJAVE, Calif., August 1 2016 (Virgin Galactic) — The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) has awarded Virgin Galactic an operating license for SpaceShipTwo.

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GAO: FAA Faces Challenges With Commercial Space Oversight

faa_logoCommercial Space:
Industry Developments and FAA Challenges
Government Accountability Office
Testimony (PDF)
GAO-16-765T
Published: Jun 22, 2016

Why GAO Did This Study

The U.S. commercial space launch industry has changed considerably since the enactment of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004. FAA is required to license or permit commercial space launches; however, to allow space tourism to develop, the act prohibited FAA from regulating crew and spaceflight participant safety before 2012—a moratorium that was extended to 2023. The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, enacted in November 2015, addressed other aspects of the commercial space launch industry.

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FAA Oversight of Commercial Space Transportation Hearing Video

The House Subcommittee on Aviation held its first hearing in seven years on the FAA’s oversight of commercial space last month. Members heard from a heavily industry-centric panel of experts who largely praised the moratorium on regulations that is in place until 2023.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s scathing criticism of the FAA’s oversight role on SpaceShipTwo prior to the accident was briefly discussed on a couple of occasions, as were the potential conflicts between FAA’s dual roles of oversight and promotion.

Taber MacCallum of World View Enterprises dismissed the criticism of FAA Associate Administrator George Nield and the FAA’s performance prior to the crash as Monday morning quarterbacking. He also called for a permanent extension of the moratorium on regulations.

Michael López-Alegría also claimed that the FAA had done its job properly. He dismissed the idea that regulating the industry would make it any safer.

Witness List:

  • Dr. George C. Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration | Written Testimony
  • Dr. Gerald L. Dillingham, Director of Civil Aviation Issues, Government Accountability Office | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Michael Gold, Chair, Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Michael López-Alegría, Vice Chair, Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Taber MacCallum, Chief Technology Officer, World View Enterprises | Written Testimony

 

Patti Grace Smith Has Passed Away

In her role at FAA, Patti Grace Smith was involved in granting a spaceport license to Mojave Airport and approvals for SpaceShipOne to conduct its test flights in 2003-04. She was a real pioneer in promoting commercial space in the United States.

NSRC Day 3 Summary

Test flights will eventually take place on Masten Space Systems' Xaero vehicle. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)
Test flights will eventually take place on Masten Space Systems’ Xaero vehicle. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference finished up today in Colorado. There were provider presentations from Masten Space Systems and Virgin Galactic. Three researchers also presented results from suborbital microgravity flights.

Below are summaries of the sessions based on Tweets.
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NSRC Day 2 Summary

SNC technicians inspect the Dream Chaser ETA. (Credit: SNC)
SNC technicians inspect the Dream Chaser ETA. (Credit: SNC)

The second day of the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference took place in Colorado on Friday. Although I wasn’t able to attend, I have compiled highlights via Twitter posts. (You can follow along with hashtag #nsrc2016.)

Below is a summary of updates that cover Sierra Nevada Corporation, Cecil Airport, Spaceport Colorado, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, World View Enterprises, NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

There was a presentation by Charles Walker, who was the first person to perform commercial experiments in space as a payload specialist on three space shuttle missions.

A separate panel discussion on human-tended space research reached the unsurprising consensus that government should lift its ban on sending scientists into space with their experiments.

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FAA AST Budget: A Million Here, A Million There

faa_logoUPDATE: The commmitttee approved an amendment bringing the budget up to $19.826, which is what the Administration requested.

The House Appropriations Committee has recommended $18.826 million for the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) for FY 2017, which is $1 million below the Obama Administration’s budget request.

The amount is $1 million above the enacted level for FY 2016.

“The recommended funding level will allow the Office of Commercial Space Transportation to add operational personnel to support an increased level of activity in its licensing, permitting and safety inspection functions,” the committee said in draft bill to be marked up on Tuesday.

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