A top commercial space executive on Wednesday lamented the Air Force’s slow pace toward eliminating duplicative requirements and approvals for commercial launches, despite a pair of 2016 letters from a top Air Force officer both identifying, and providing action items, for these issues.

“The leadership’s vision has not yet been fully adopted at all levels of the Air Force,” Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson told a Senate panel. “As a result, the Air Force has not yet realized its full potential to move at the velocity required to support commercial operators.”

The multiple-times-used Blue Origin New Shepard rocket on display outside the main hall of the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. Photo: Defense Daily.
The multiple-times-used Blue Origin New Shepard rocket on display outside the main hall of the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. Photo: Defense Daily.

Meyerson said while pursuing a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch license for Blue Origin’s reusable New Glenn rocket, set to debut in 2020, the company has entirely different, but equally rigorous, sets of deliverables for the Air Force, all for the same vehicle. He said Blue Origin is providing the same types of documents and reports, including safety and hazard analyses, in different formats to different agencies.

Meyerson said in contrast to expendable rockets used only once and thrown away, Air Force requirements and requirements from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) for reusable rockets are completely different from each other, leading to increased costs, delays and uncertainty. He called for AST to be the sole lead agency for licensing commercial space launches without regard to location or type of launch.

Former Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) chief and now commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Gen. John Hyten, identified these issues last year in a pair of letters. In an October 21 letter, Hyten called for the FAA licensing process to be the single process used to satisfy launch obligations for commercial missions. He said there is no requirement for commercial launch providers to use Air Force-specific safety standards or services for commercial launches from NASA Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Hyten, in a March 8, 2016, letter, called on the Air Force to perform a number of action items to foster a robust commercial launch industry. These included identifying and eliminating duplicative and outmoded government requirements and approvals and minimize government unique requirements and facilitate commercial providers’ innovative solutions to meet their operational demands.

Hyten called for the Air Force to protect range resources by assessing risks of launch and neighboring hazardous activity to people, facilities and assets and provide mitigation if risks exceed established criteria. He also called for the Air Force to structure flexible range processes, organization and services to accommodate commercial demand on AFSPC ranges, to include responsive real property processes. The Air Force did not return a request for comment by press time Wednesday.

Senate Commerce space, science and competitiveness subcommittee Chairman Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Defense Daily after the hearing that the purpose of the hearing was to highlight challenges, and certainly overlapping regulations and unnecessary duplication are among those potential burdens. Cruz said he plans on holding more hearings to lay the groundwork for a new commercial space launch competitiveness bill that facilitates and expands commercial space launch capabilities.

This new bill, Cruz said, would ensure the United States has the regulatory system, incentives and property rights to continue growing private investment in space exploration. He didn’t give a timetable for his new bill, but said that previous space-related bills supporting both expanding space and space exploration were preceded by months, sometimes in excess of a year, listening and learning to issues.

A pair of top Air Force space officers, AFSPC chief Gen. Jay Raymond and 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic) Commander Lt. Gen. David Buck, told reporters earlier this month that the Air Force is embracing reusable rocketry. Buck pointed to an increase in the Air Force’s launch tempo as evidence the service is working toward the potential of reusable rockets as reusable rockets will eventually require rapid turnaround and high launch tempo on ranges (Defense Daily, April 6).