Today the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing to review the fiscal year 2013 (FY13) budget request submitted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (also referred to as AST) and to examine the office's expanded roles and responsibilities.
"The Office of Commercial Space Transportation has successfully licensed over 200 launches since 1989 without loss of life, serious injury or property damage to the general public, which is a notable record in this inherently risky business," Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) noted, commending the good work of the office.
AST licenses and regulates U.S. commercial space launches and reentries, as well as the operation of non-federal launch and reentry sites. AST's FY13 budget request seeks $16.7 million, allowing for increased staff support in anticipation of up to 40 launch and reentry operations projected to take place in 2013. These launches include International Space Station cargo resupply missions, and long- anticipated flights in the suborbital tourism market.
The recently passed FAA reauthorization bill includes an extension of the regulatory moratorium on commercial human spaceflight systems to October 2015. In order to ensure that industry won't be hindered by duplicative or ambiguous requirements, Chairman Palazzo recommended that FAA use this time "to engage with industry stakeholders on its regulatory approach and licensing standards to prepare the path forward for a proposed rulemaking."
Palazzo further raised concerns that FAA will not be able to regulate human spaceflight for several years, which he noted was particularly troubling coupled with NASA's use of Space Act Agreements to fund the development of new launch systems, which prohibits NASA from imposing specific safety requirements.
"I realize that AST has a significant amount of work ahead as it endeavors to align its regulatory approach with evolving industry approaches to safety," Palazzo said. "We will be closely monitoring the collaboration between FAA and NASA in this area to ensure these agencies avoid conflicting or duplicative responsibilities while balancing authority for commercial space operations on NASA missions."
Testifying on behalf of FAA, Dr. George Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation, said that once the moratorium has ended, "Regulatory standards governing human spaceflight will evolve as the industry matures so that regulations neither stifle technology development nor exposed crew or spaceflight participants to avoidable risks."
Also testifying today was Capt. Wilbur C. Trafton (USN Ret.), Chair of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC)