The FAA’s effort to update insurance requirements for space launches remains a work in progress that could expose the federal government to excess financial risk, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Under the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015, Congress required the FAA to update the requirements for insurance that private launch providers must purchase for damages to third parties and federal property. The requirements had not been updated since 1988.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company would delay its 2018 Red Dragon mission to Mars at least two years to better focus its resources on two programs that a running significantly behind schedule.
“We were focused on 2018, but we felt like we needed to put more resources and focus more heavily on our crew program and our Falcon Heavy program,” Shotwell said at a pre-launch press conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “So we’re looking more for the 2020 timeframe for that.”
The mission will land a modified Dragon spacecraft on the martian surface. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he planned to launch Dragons to the surface every two years beginning in 2018, culminating in a crewed mission in 2024.
Both of the Commercial Crew Program’s contractors have made progress developing their crew transportation systems, but both also have aggressive development schedules that are increasingly under pressure. The two contractors — Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies, Corp. (SpaceX) — are developing transportation systems that must meet the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) standards for human spaceflight — a process called certification.
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) review has found that the nation’s spaceport operators are confused about the insurance they should have for launch accidents.
“Specifically, several spaceport operators GAO interviewed said that, based on their interpretation of the financial responsibility regulations, they were unsure whether their property would be covered under a launch company’s insurance policy or whether they would need to purchase their own insurance for their property to be covered,” the report states.
A review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recommended the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conduct a review of its regulations for space support vehicles used to train space tourists and conduct reduced gravity experiments.
“The Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) should direct the FAA Administrator to fully examine and document whether the FAA’s current regulatory framework is appropriate for space support vehicles and, if not, suggest legislative or regulatory changes, or both, as applicable,” the report states.
A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (GAO-16-620) says that NASA has used bad on estimating the cost and schedule for its Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, leaving the program open to budget overruns and cost delays.
“GAO found that the Orion program’s cost and schedule estimates are not reliable based on best practices for producing high-quality estimates,” the report stated. “Cost and schedule estimates play an important role in addressing technical risks.”
Commercial 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.
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.
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
A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report places the formulation and development costs of the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and related ground systems at just under $23.8 billion.
The total includes $11.28 billion for Orion, $9.69 billion for SLS, and $2.81 billion for exploration ground systems at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The figures are included in a new GAO report released last week titled, “NASA: Assessment of Major Projects.” In the report, GAO looked at the space agency’s deep space exploration effort and other major programs.
The space agency is working toward a November 2018 launch readiness date of an uncrewed Orion capsule aboard an SLS capable of lifting up to 70 metric tons (77 tons) into low-Earth orbit. The new rocket’s core stage will be powered by four RS-25 engines and extended five-segment solid rocket boosters derived from the space shuttle program.
A flight test with crew members aboard is planned for April 2023. However, NASA officials continue to work toward an internal launch readiness date of August 2021.
The GAO’s $9.7 billion estimate for the Orion program only covers the first crew flight.
“This life-cycle cost estimate does not include production, operations, or sustainment of additional crew vehicles, despite NASA’s plans to use and possibly enhance the vehicle after 2023,” the report stated.
The space agency also plans to evolve SLS to have the capacity to lift 130 metric tons (143.3 tons) to low-Earth orbit. The upgraded launch vehicle would use advanced boosters and a more powerful upper stage.
The GAO report found that NASA faces a number of challenges in keep to its schedule. Issues include challenges with developing the rocket’s interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), the need to redesign Orion’s heat shield, delays in writing ground system software, and limited cost and schedule reserves.
The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) failed to justify its request for an additional $1.5 million in funding to hire more personnel in its Fiscal Year 2016 budget request, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) review has found.
“FAA’s fiscal year 2016 budget submission does not provide a detailed justification of the staffing changes and does not consider alternatives to hiring additional staff,” the report states. “Because FAA has not done this, Congress lacks information that would be helpful in making decisions about the resources needed for the agency’s commercial space launch activities.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report calling for NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to develop better methods for evaluating the research being done aboard the International Space Station National Laboratory.
“CASIS officials told GAO in July 2014 that setting measurable targets would be arbitrary because CASIS processes and metrics are still evolving,” the report concluded. “In January 2015, however, the Chairman of the CASIS Board of Directors told GAO that setting measurable targets is a priority for the board. CASIS, however, has yet to establish a date by which measurable targets will be developed.”
The commercial space industry had a great day on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, with the Republican-controlled House Science Committee giving it most of what it wanted while swatting away proposed changes from the minority Democrats.
Among the goodies approved by the committee: a decade-long extension of the moratorium on regulating commercial human spaceflight; a nine-year extension of industry-government cost sharing for damages caused by launch accidents; and an act that would give companies property rights to materials they mine from asteroids.
It was a busy year for a number of commercial space companies. While most of them made considerable progress, the news wasn’t all good.
A Dream Deferred
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) had a pretty rough year, losing out on two major contracts and laying off more than 100 employees.
On a Friday in May, just as everyone was preparing for the long Memorial Day weekend, Virgin Galactic announced it was dumping the hybrid rubber motor SNC developed for SpaceShipTwo in favor of a hybrid nylon one produced by Scaled Composites.
The year 2014 was one of steady progress and major setbacks in commercial space. Here is a rundown of some of the major developments and trends of the year. A later will look more closely at some of the companies in the industry.
A Crash in the Desert. The tragic loss of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and death of Scaled Composites test pilot Mike Alsbury on Oct. 31 sent shock waves through the space community. The ship was ripped apart over the Mojave Desert about 13 seconds into a powered flight test when its twin tail booms suddenly deployed. Pilot Pete Siebold was thrown free of the wreckage and landed under parachute, battered and bruised but alive.
SPARKS, Nev. (Jan. 5, 2015) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) was advised today that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has denied the company’s protest challenging the outcome of NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract award. At this stage, SNC is evaluating the GAO decision. While the outcome was not what SNC expected, we maintain our belief that the Dream Chaser® spacecraft is technically very capable, reliable and was qualified to win based on NASA’s high ratings of the space system. We appreciate the time and effort contributed to this process by the GAO and NASA to fully evaluate such a critical decision for the United States.