On FAA Rocket Permit Rules

The comment period is closed and industry has weighed in on FAA/AST's proposed rulemaking, Experimental Permits for Reusable Suborbital Rockets.

(As we've discussed, along with the proposed rule,
Human Space Flight Requirements for Crew and Space Flight Participants, this is the second NPRM intended to implement the requirements of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004.)

As with the first NPRM, folks in the shiny new commercial space transportation industry appear comfortable working with FAA/AST, and continue to speak highly of the thoughtful efforts the agency puts into promulgating the proposed rules. After all, regulation is a necessary evil and everyone knows you have to train your regulators from the start. And regulating the rockets should not be tricker and more complex than building them.

Here, in no particular order, we have links to comments on the experimental permits NPRM now posted on
DOT's docket site (docket number 24197):

Spaceport Associates tells FAA the "proposed concept of the Experimental Permit is a good one, and it will clearly introduce savings in time and cost for the operators, so is to be commended." Then it offers suggestions as to "where they may be still further improved," including in connection with the quantitative risk criteria, streamlined system safety management, engineering and operating requirements, pre-flight reporting, one-year license period, for-hire prohibition and paperwork reduction.

The Personal Spaceflight Federation (which includes AirLaunch, Armadillo Aerospace, Mojave Spaceport, Rocketplane, Scaled Composites, Space Adventures, SpaceDev, SpaceX, t/Space, The SpaceShip Company, XCOR, X PRIZE Foundation and Virgin Galactic) details the views of its membership, and provides this summary:
* The Federation strongly supports the FAA's decision to use a streamlined approach to the authorization process for experimental permits, including the exclusion of quantitative risk criteria;
* The language concerning single licenses or permits and experimental airworthiness certificates should be clarified with respect to experimental airworthiness certificates not being required for a permit or license;
* The language stating that experimental permits are not required for a launch license should be emphasized;
* The definition of anomaly is problematic and should be removed;
* Any requirement that launch activities occurring on private land need a launch site operator's license must be removed;
* The requirement for a program description must be clarified in the preamble to describe the intended level of detail expected.
* The types of hazard analysis required must be revised given the language concerning "decreased safety margins" and "increased workload", and this is even more the case given the requirements for anomaly recording and reporting;
* References to overflight of water should be revised to refer to "navigable waters";
* The requirement to provide air traffic control with real time position and velocity data for reusable suborbital rockets must make allowances for the accuracy limitations of the technology and the air traffic control system; and
* The Federation strongly supports the FAA's determination that prizes do not constitute compensation for hire.

Rocketplane, which joined with the Federation, also filed seperately, recommending that "the experimental permit go further in the safety process than only requiring a preliminary hazard list" and that "[r]equiring an estimation of a probability of a third party catastrophic event (Ec) would ensure adequate safety analyses to minimize the risk to the uninvolved public especially in the case of over flight of a populated area."

David Masten of Masten Space Systems (yes, that's a picture of Masten's rocket, above), "congratulates the FAA on a good balance between creating a simple, clear and streamlined process for obtaining an experimental permit and protecting the uninvolved public." And he comments, the "requirement for a site operator license for a private launch facility adds an undue burden of regulatory compliance without increasing safety." He aclarificationit of clairfiaction in connection with certain provisions (§437.27 Pre-flight and post-flight operations, and §437.91 For-hire prohibition).

National Association of Rocketry ("on behalf of approximately 4,600 members" of the association of sport rocketry hobbyists) overviews safety guidelines of NFPA 1122 (Model Rocketry) and 1127 (High Power Rocketry) and submits that these sport rocketry activities "should be specifically excluded from any consideration for FAA licensing under the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004."

And more from the rocket hobbyists, a
joint response submitted by Tripoli Rocketry Association, the Association of Experimental Rocketry of the Pacific (AERO-PAC), the Stratofox Aerospace Tracking Team, among other interested folks who are members of the High-Power Rocketry (HPR) community, points out that "[o]ne of the activities which drives the high end of HPR is university research" and seeks to "ensure that this cooperation between university researchers and volunteers is not considered 'for hire' so that it can continue to grow toward suborbital launches." The commenters also submit, "[s]ince the purpose of the proposed Part 437 Experimental Permits is to reduce the paperwork necessary for an experimental suborbital launch below the burden of launch licenses intended for orbital launches, we request that HPR launches should be explicitly included in Part 437."

one-paragraph comment from SpaceShot observes: "The 30 expected fatalities of the uninvolved public per million flights standard is too stringent. If six families drive from Austin to Las Cruces round trip across half Texas to go to the Spaceport to watch the dads all take a flight together, together they will expect incur 150 deaths per million flights in auto accidents."

Beyond-Earth Enterprises discusses the use of commercial licensed spaceports v. private launch facilities; it also comments that "restricting the carrying of non-human cargo for compensation may impede some business models and place an unnecessary hindrance on this nascent industry."

Last but not least, an 11-page response (and the only comment with footnotes, including citations to legislative history) by
Blue Origin, offers feedback on provsions including the definitions of "launch" and "reentry," the duration of permits (Blue proposes this be increased from one year to 18 months), operation of private launch sites ("We strongly oppose FAA's proposal to impose a site operator license requirement on permittees using private, exclusive use launch sites"); human space flight (supporting 437.21(b)(4) which would apply the human space flight rules to permits to the extent a spaceflight participant or crew is aboard a suborbital RLV, but not to permit holders having a remote operator); inspection (section 437.95 which would even require FAA inspection of additional vehicles of the same design prior to flight "seems particularly unnecessary"); sections 437.55 & 437.57 - Hazard Analysis & Operating Area Containment (Blue supports); and other provisions.

I'll check back to see if the docket adds any other items. Meanwhile, read 'em for yourself, as FAA is doing right now. And yes, once again, everyone who did not comment loved every word of the NPRM.

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