The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to take a series of steps to simplify and speed up its “somewhat rusty” licensing process for commercial space launches, Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Rosen said Feb. 21.

Among the changes will be the adoption of a “21st-century file-and-fly” licensing system, including “specific new regulatory deadlines and approaches,” Rosen said in brief remarks at the second meeting of the Trump administration’s National Space Council. Other measures will include accelerated rulemaking, expanded use of waivers, and creation of a task force to increase coordination with other agencies. 

U.S. Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Rosen (Department of Transportation photo)
U.S. Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Rosen (Department of Transportation photo)

“The Department of Transportation is strongly committed to regulatory streamlining and modernizing our commercial space regulatory framework,” Rosen told the council.

Vice President Mike Pence, who chaired the meeting at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, said that current rules often stymie launch providers and their customers. For example, licenses often cannot be transferred from one launch site to another.

“The government’s figured out how to honor driver’s licenses across state lines,” Pence said. “There’s no reason we can’t do the same for rockets.”

At the council’s first meeting, in October, Gwynn Shotwell, SpaceX president and CEO, said launch providers like hers would benefit from a faster licensing process (Defense Daily, Oct. 5, 2017).

Demand for licenses is growing rapidly. FAA-licensed launches reached a record high of 23 in 2017, and the agency expects more growth in the coming years as SpaceX increases its launch rate and as new providers, such as Virgin Orbit, begin operations.

Also at the council meeting, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross revealed that many of his department’s space functions, including promoting space commerce and licensing commercial imaging satellites, will be moved to his office to ensure they receive adequate high-level attention. The White House intends to propose creating an undersecretary position to oversee those space activities.

“Activities such as asteroid mining, space tourism and space habitation are quickly becoming much more than science fiction, and we need a future-oriented space commerce agenda and a supportive regulatory regime,” Ross told the council.

Separately, the White House announced late Feb. 20 that Pence has tapped 29 people to serve on the council’s users advisory group, which is intended to promote collaboration across the space community.

The group’s industry representatives include executives from Blue Origin, Boeing [BA], Lockheed Martin [LMT], Northrop Grumman [NOC], Orbital ATK [OA], Relativity Space, Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), SpaceX, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and VOX Space.