WASHINGTON – Senator Eric Schmitt, Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Space and Science Subcommittee, along with Senator Kristen Sinema (I-AZ), sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) seeking answers on how the agency is focusing its efforts to address issues and delays with its launch and reentry licensing regulations to keep pace with the demands of commercial spaceflight activities and the threat of U.S. adversaries in space:
“It is no secret that the United States is in a space race with China – our chief economic and military adversary. We cannot be our own worst enemy when it comes to beating China to the moon and Mars. Further agency delays and turf wars only further put our nation at a disadvantage – regulatory certainty and clarity is essential to allow our nation and commercial space industry plan for the future. I will continue to be a voice for responsible innovation in space here in Washington,” said Senator Eric Schmitt.
As Ranking Member of the Space and Science Subcommittee, Sen. Schmitt recently participated in a hearing on October 18, 2023, entitled “Promoting Safety, Innovation, and Competitiveness in U.S. Commercial Human Space Activities”.
Watch here to view the Senator’s opening statement and questioning, where he stresses the importance of streamlined, light-touch regulations in leveraging our nation’s commercial space industry to winning a 21st Century space race.
Specifically, the letter asks:
- Witnesses at the October 18 hearing uniformly emphasized the need for additional resources at the FAA and specifically at AST for its launch and reentry licensing work to keep pace with industry activity and progress.
- Does AST have a specific list of additional resources needed such as particular expert personnel or hiring authorities in order to more completely and effectively meet its public safety responsibilities?
- In particular, has AST focused on specific additional resources needed to enhance efficiency and streamline licensing review to allow AST to review commercial license materials in parallel rather than sequentially?
- Does AST need additional authorities to ensure it fully meets its public safety responsibilities to maximize commercial operation and innovation in the context of AST’s launch and reentry licensing process?
- Additionally, are there specific IT systems or automated processes that AST could use to better expedite licensing reviews?
- Commercial launch and reentry companies require frequent flight tests to mature vehicle systems rapidly, including for important national space objectives such as safely returning astronauts to the lunar surface, deploying commercial low-earth orbit destinations, and landing on Mars.
- What actions are you undertaking–in line with maintaining public safety–including expedited and updated licensing and environmental reviews, to ensure that timelines for approving test flights are aligned with national policy goals?
- Does AST employ distinct processes for evaluating mature vehicle systems or repeat operations than wholly novel operations? If so, what are these distinctions and if not, does AST intend to make changes in this regard?
- Please describe the steps you are taking to ensure that the federal government is able to keep pace with predicted increases in operational flight rates for mature vehicle systems necessary for furthering our nation’s space endeavors.
- Does AST plan to issue further guidance, including Advisory Circulars, to assist industry compliance with Part 450 regulations?
- Explain what steps AST is taking to improve interagency coordination and cooperation to avoid unnecessary delays in commercial space activities.
- What is AST doing to ensure it is appropriately tailoring its reviews under part 450 regulations to focus on its core responsibility of public safety?