Tag Archives: FAA

FAA okays SpaceX launch on Monday

As I expected, after several days of hemming and hawing, the FAA has granted SpaceX a launch license for its planned Monday launch.

The FAA license approved Friday covers all seven Falcon 9 launches planned for the Iridium Next constellation, along with landings of the Falcon 9 first stage on a barge positioned downrange in the Pacific Ocean. The $3 billion Iridium Next program aims to replace all of the company’s existing satellites, which were launched in the late 1990s and early 2000s and are now operating well beyond their design lives.

What SpaceX clearly did here was to move ahead, daring the FAA to challenge their desire to launch quickly. Government bureaucrats don’t like that, but to call SpaceX’s bluff and block the launch would have caused these bureaucrats even more problems. SpaceX knew this, and gambled that the FAA would back down. It did, and thus the launch license was issued.

FAA moves to regulate backyard drone use

The law is only there to crush the little people: The FAA has issued a subpoena against a father and son who posted youtube videos showing off their modifications to a drone, equipping it first with a gun and then with a flame thrower.

They are fighting the subpoena, noting that the FAA lacks any authority to regulate the use of recreational drones.

The Haughwouts’ attorney, Mario Cerame, told CBS News that the decision could potentially set an important precedent about the FAA’s power to regulate recreational drone use. Cerame added, the FAA should not be using airplane regulations to seek information about “a kid playing in his backyard…. They shouldn’t use airplane regulations,” Cerame told CBS News. “They should go get the authority from Congress. It’s about keeping the government in check as to what Congress said they can do.”

Hey, we know they never intended to do anything wrong! And besides, no reasonable prosecutor would ever consider bringing charges, right?

Congressman proposes major changes to regulation of commercial space

Doug Messier has posted a detailed analysis of Congressman Jim Bridenstine’s (R-Oklahoma) proposed American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA) that is definitely worth reading.

Most of the changes appear aimed at organizing the regulation process of commercial space more completely under FAA control, rather than the hodge-podge of agencies that presently have responsibility. The bill also encourages NOAA and NASA to increase their use of commercial data for weather and Earth remote sensing.

At first glance, the bill looks good, but it also is not likely to be passed as written. Moreover, not surprisingly it calls for a hefty increase in funding for the FAA agencies being given more responsibilities, but I wonder if Congress will comparably reduce the funding of those agencies it takes responsibility from. My instinct tells me no, which means of course that the government and bureaucracy grows again.

Federal law outlaws launches on foreign rockets

Killing competition: The American launch industry as well as the FAA regulators are in agreement that a 2005 law that limits American small satellite companies from using foreign launch companies should remain in place.

The CSLA, dating from 2005, is the U.S. government’s way of protecting the seemingly forever-nascent U.S. small-satellite launch industry from competing with government-controlled foreign launchers for U.S. business. It seeks to oblige non-U.S. rocket providers to sign a CSLA that, for all intents and purposes, sets U.S. commercial launch prices as the world minimum for government-owned non-U.S. launch providers.

The rationale is that these non-U.S. launchers, not bound by the constraints of profit and loss – but hungry for hard-currency export earnings – will undercut commercial U.S. companies’ launch prices and keep them from gaining market traction.

India’s launch rockets, for example, are designed and built by India’s space agency ISRO, and are backed not by private funds but by government money. The fear is that India could subsidize its rockets so that the price could always be kept below what any American company could charge.

The truth, however, is that competition and innovation, here in the U.S., has so successful undercut foreign prices that no amount of subsidies can hope to compete. Those foreign companies are now scrambling to actually redesign their rockets to lower their costs and thus their prices, rather than asking for more handouts from their governments. This law should be repealed.

Bureaucrats fight over the regulation of commercial space

Battle of bureaucrats: The FAA’s office that regulates commercial space (AST) and the National Transportation Safety Boad (NTSB) are fighting over the procedures AST should use to control and manage the work of private space companies.

The issues deal with how the FAA inspects the work of space companies, prompted by the NTSB’s investigation into the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crash in 2014. The kerfuffle also illustrates the absurdity of the regulatory responsibilities that Congress forced on AST when it amended the commercial space act in 2004. Somehow it is expected that bureaucrats in Washington will know better how to make sure a private company’s new space designs are safe than the very engineers who are building them. The disagreement here is merely about how the bureaucrats keep watch. The NTSB wants AST’s bureaucrats to hover over them like a worried mother. AST wants to hover from a little farther away, like a proud father.

In either case, the hovering will accomplish little to make the cutting edge engineering more safe except create fake jobs in the government for hovering bureaucrats, while squelching risky innovation since such risks go against the instincts of every bureaucrat.

Though Congress has recently revised the law to ease its regulations, they didn’t really do much to remove them. Expect these kerfuffles to get bigger in the coming years as the Washington bureaucracy moves to impose its will on this industry while simultaneously manipulating the press and Congress to create more useless jobs for themselves.

If they succeed, we should also expect them to succeed in making innovative commercial development in space become increasingly impossible.

Congress revises law governing commercial space

The competition heats up? Congress this week passed a revision to the Commercial Space Act that they claimed will help encourage the growth of the new industry.

According to the Senate press release, the bill does the following:

  • Extend the liability waiver for private space launches until 2023
  • Extend ISS operations until 2024
  • Establishes a legal right for U.S. companies to mine resources in space
  • Demands a new more streamlined framework for the government’s regulation of the industry

The last item is probably mostly blather, since a close look at the bill itself [pdf] reveals that most of these demands are merely requirements that the executive branch write a report. The odious rules that will allow the federal government to regulate and restrict the industry all remain. And even though the bill makes a big deal about establishing these regulations in concert with the industry itself, that only means that today’s players can use the government to make it difficult for new players to get started.

The claim that the bill also establishes “a legal right to resources a U.S. citizen may recover in space consistent with current law and international obligations of the United States,” as noted in the Senate press release, is a very big overstatement. The bill’s wording does nothing to get the U.S. out of the UN’s Outer Space Treaty, which forbids any person or nation from claiming ownership of territory in space. All the bill does is express the desire that American citizens should have the right to own what they mine, while at the same time stating that these resources will be “obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.’’ In other words, the Outer Space Treaty still applies, and you can’t own it.

For what it’s worth, the bill also renames the FAA’s space regulatory agency from “The Office of Space Commercialization” to “The Office of Space Commerce.”

All in all, the bill’s most important overall accomplishment is that it strongly emphasizes and encourages the development of a private space industry, and tries to focus the government’s regulatory efforts in that direction. This ain’t perfect, but it could be considered a step in the right direction.

One more thing to note: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) appears to have been a major player in getting this bill written and passed.

GAO criticizes the staff and budget request of FAA’s commercial space office

A GAO report has concluded that the FAA has not provided sufficient justification for its 2016 requested budget and staff increases for its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).

AST requested an additional $1.5 million more plus an increase of its staff by 13 to handle what it expects to be an increase in commercial launches. However,

The GAO report cautioned about using predictions of launches as a reason for hiring additional staff because, in recent years, “the actual number of launches during those years was much lower than what FAA projected.” In one example, the FAA projected it would license more than 40 launches and reentries in 2014, but the actual number was about 20.

The report also revealed a split among companies in the commercial launch business about the importance of increasing AST’s budget. While industry organizations like the Commercial Spaceflight Federation have expressed their support for the proposed budget increase, only three of the nine companies surveyed by the GAO believed the office has insufficient resources to deal with its workload. Three other companies thought the office has sufficient resources, and the remaining three expressed no opinion. The report did not identify which companies held those opinions, but did list the nine companies contacted by the GAO: Blue Origin, Boeing, Masten Space Systems, Orbital ATK, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, Virgin Galactic, Vulcan Aerospace and XCOR Aerospace.

The second paragraph in the quote above suggests that a majority of the private companies that AST would regulate are not enthused about giving that government agency more resources or abilities. To me, I suspect that the phrase “We’re here to help you!” and what it usually signifies about the government has something to do with that lack of enthusiasm.

FAA moves to regulate and thus destroy drone use

We’re here to help you: The FAA is considering a new rule to require a pilot’s license in order to operate a private drone, even drones more akin to model airplanes.

The proposed rules would require that a drone owner would have to get certified as a pilot, “certification that can cost $10,000 and demand many hours flying aircraft that control nothing like a little drone.”

“Knowing the proper flap setting on a short runway approach for a Cessna 172 doesn’t do any good for a DJI Phantom [an inexpensive and popular commercial drone],” said Matt Waite, a University of Nebraska professor and founder of the Drone Journalism Lab. “A lot of people out there already running businesses in conflict with FAA policy, who don’t have pilot licenses, are probably looking at this like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.'”

Gee, here we have a new industry that is growing and prosperous, with many people coming up with creative ideas for using drones that none of its inventors ever dreamed of, and the government wants to step in and control it, regulating it to a point where it can’t even exist legally. Isn’t that nice of them?

Virgin Galactic and the FAA on Friday reached agreement allowing the company to fly its suborbital flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The competition heats up: Virgin Galactic and the FAA on Friday reached agreement allowing the company to fly its suborbital flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

I suspect that Virgin Galactic wants to hurry its debut in New Mexico in order to help quell the doubts that have been building about the company’s future.

The FAA is inching closer to approving a license to allow SpaceX to conduct tests in Texas of its rocket-powered prototype of its Dragon capsule.

The competition heats up: The FAA is inching closer to approving a license to allow SpaceX to conduct tests in Texas of its rocket-powered prototype of its Dragon capsule.

Simply, DragonFly is a propulsive system designed to allow the SpaceX Dragon capsule to perform propulsive landings (both with and without parachute assistance). Overall, DragonFly will use eight SuperDraco hypergolic engines capable of producing up to 16,400 lbf of thrust each. …

In all, SpaceX has proposed, and submitted to the FAA for commercial experimental license, a total of 30 DragonFly tests at its McGregor test facility. Four of the test flights involve DragonFly being dropped from a helicopter at an altitude of 10,000 ft with two propulsive assist landings parachutesand engines) and two propulsive landings (engines only). The remaining 26 of the proposed test flights will launch from a specially-built pad that will take between 1-2 weeks to construct (according to the FAA draft environmental report). These 26 flights will consist of eight parachute-assist landings and 18 full propulsive hops (rocket engines only).

We should all be relieved: The 76-page draft environmental impact statement noted that these tests will not destroy the Earth, and that their effect on global warming will be tiny. If the license is finally approved, testing should begin before the end of 2014.

The FAA has given its permission for Blue Origin to expand its operations in Texas.

I’m so glad: The FAA has given its permission for Blue Origin to expand its operations in Texas.

“After reviewing and analyzing currently available data and information on existing conditions and the potential impacts of the Proposed Action, the FAA has determined that issuing experimental permits and/or launch licenses to Blue Origin for operation of suborbital RLVs at the West Texas launch site would not significantly impact the quality of the human environment,” the agency said in document posted on its website.

Two takeaways: First, Blue Origin is moving forward with the testing of more sophisticated suborbital and maybe orbital spacecraft. That is great news. Second, it really is annoying that they need the government’s approval to do this, especially since the FAA knows far less about it then they do.

More red tape in space.

Another look at this week’s hearings on space regulation: More red tape in space.

“As the prospects for a greater number of commercial-transportation vehicles in space increase, it is time to consider closing the current regulatory and safety gap between launch and re-entry,” said George Nield, the FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, in remarks this week before Congress.

Yeah, that “gap” is an area where freedom exists, where federal regulators like Nield can’t get their grubby paws on what people do and tell them how to do it. Gotta close that gap, can’t have people doing what they want, can we?

Update: Here’s another report, indicating the same eagerness of the FAA to impose its will on private space.

Another law, another squelched dream

Surprise, surprise! Virgin Galactic space tourists could be grounded by federal regulations.

Virgin Galactic submitted an application to the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation in late August 2013, says Attenborough. The office, which goes by the acronym AST, has six months to review the application, meaning an approval may come as early as February. Industry experts, however, say that may be an overly optimistic projection. “An application will inevitably be approved, but it definitely remains uncertain exactly when it will happen,” says Dirk Gibson, an associate professor of communication at the University of New Mexico and author of multiple books on space tourism. “This is extremely dangerous and unchartered territory. It’s space travel. AST has to be very prudent,” he says. “They don’t want to endanger the space-farers or the public, and they can’t let the industry get started and then have a Titanic-like scenario that puts an end to it all in the eyes of the public.” [emphasis mine]

As I predicted ten years ago, the 2004 revision to the Commercial Space Act puts bureaucrats in charge of the exploration of space by private citizens, a fact that can have no good consequences.
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The FAA has lifted its ban on the use of cell phones during take-off and landings in airplanes.

The FAA has lifted its ban on the use of cell phones during take-off and landings in airplanes.

The ban on mobile devices has been in effect since the early 1990s, when cellphones began to crop up, and the FAA and airlines summarily freaked the hell out for no good reason. Despite no direct evidence that the use of mobile phones or other electronic devices would interfere with the plane’s systems, the ban continued — even after the FAA hired an outside safety agency to find if anything could go wrong. They didn’t. But the FAA and airlines decided to continue the policy. Until today.

The requirement to stow laptops during takeoffs and landings remains, however, as the FAA fears these larger objects could too easily become dangerous projectiles should something go wrong.

Because its FAA test flight permit will expire on May 23, SpaceShipTwo’s first powered flight has to occur by then and be supersonic.

The competition heats up: Because its FAA test flight permit will expire on May 23, SpaceShipTwo’s first powered flight has to occur by then and be supersonic.

What is unclear to me is how the expiration of this permit could affect future flights. Does Virgin Galactic have to get a new permit to continue test flights? What about the tourist flights that are supposed to follow?

The head of the Transportation Department threatens long delays if the sequestration cuts take place March 1.

Chicken Little report: The head of the Transportation Department today threatened long delays if the sequestration cuts take place March 1.

Either he is lying or he has decided to make the most harmful cuts to hurt the public the most. Sequestration will lower the budget of the FAA by 8.2 percent, which will cut that agency’s budget from $18.7 to $17.2 billion, which is still more than the FAA got in 2009, by $300 million. I don’t remember long delays and limited airport operations at that time, do you? See here for my sources.

There is no reason to shut down operations or cause significant travel delays, unless LaHood wants to cause pain so that the money flow keeps pouring in.

Update: One more comment. It took me all of five minutes of research to come up with the past budgets of the FAA to give the sequestration cuts some context. I think it disgraceful that the reporter for this story couldn’t do the same.

FAA officials in Seattle have been accused of pressuring employees to vote for Democratic candidates in the November election

FAA officials in Seattle have been accused of pressuring employees to vote for Democratic candidates in the November election, a violation of the law.

“We write respectfully to request that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) initiate an investigation into Deputy Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety John Hickey and Deputy Director of Flight Standards Field Operations Ray Towles,” Epstein wrote. “We have been informed that during mandatory meetings of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees, Mr. Hickey and Mr. Towles encouraged employees to vote for Democratic politicians in upcoming elections, explaining their jobs may very well depend on a Democratic victory.”

The encouraging thing about this story is that it appears that the FAA is taking this allegation very seriously and appears willing to do something about it.

The FAA and NASA have worked out their differences concerning their regulation of private commercial space.

The FAA and NASA have worked out their differences concerning their regulation of private commercial space.

Essentially, NASA has finally conceded with this agreement that it has no control over a private space launch that is not flying to a NASA facility. That the FAA continues to have as much regulatory control is bad enough, but getting NASA out of the loop will at least ease the bureaucratic burden for private companies.

The FAA has granted Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic a launch permit to begin rocket-powered test flights of SpaceShipTwo.

The competition heats up: The FAA has granted Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic a launch permit to begin rocket-powered test flights of SpaceShipTwo.

The FAA has issued a draft environmental impact statement required before the agency will allow SpaceShipTwo to be launched from the Mohave Air and Space Port.

Isn’t it nice to live in a free country? The FAA has issued a draft environmental impact statement, required before the agency will allow SpaceShipTwo to be launched from the Mohave Air and Space Port.

If the Wright Brothers had had to jump through the modern bureaucratic hoops required by today’s federal government, they probably wouldn’t have gotten their airplane off the ground until after World War I.

FAA regulations have forced a volunteer pilot program in Alaska to cancel its support of the Yukon Quest International Dog Race.

We’re here to help you: FAA regulations have forced a volunteer pilot program in Alaska to cancel its support of the Yukon Quest International Dog Race.

The rules prohibit private pilots from accepting cost deferments such as fuel, accommodations and food. According to the agency’s regulations, allowing private pilots to accept compensation for costs is commercial activity, and commercial aviation is heavily regulated.

In other words, because these volunteers are simply getting reimbursed for their expenses the FAA forbids them from volunteering. Isn’t it great how the government is so helpful?

Lobbying to save commercial space

Jeff Foust reports today that the long delayed final FAA reauthorization bill also includes language that will extend until 2015 the restrictions on the FAA’s ability to regulate commercial space.

How nice of them.

When the Commercial Space Law Amendments Act (CSLAA) passed in 2004 I wrote in my UPI column Space Watch that I thought it was a bad idea and would cause great harm to the commercial space industry. All the law accomplished was hand power to the FAA and Congress to restrict commercial activities in space, without providing the industry any real benefit. Even with this extension space commercial companies remain at the mercy of Congressional action or FAA regulation, neither of which is really interested in helping this new industry.

The bad elements of the bill are finally beginning to come to light.
» Read more

LightSquared seeks an investigation into one of the GPS advisory board members that said their system interferes with GPS

LightSquared has announced that it is seeking an investigation into the GPS advisory board which said its system interferes with GPS.

On Thursday, the mobile broadband startup petitioned the Inspector General of NASA to investigate Bradford Parkinson, the vice chairman of a board that advises the government on GPS. Parkinson should be removed from discussions about potential interference between GPS and LightSquared’s proposed LTE (Long Term Evolution) network because he is also a director of GPS vendor Trimble Navigation, LightSquared said in its petition.

As lawyers say, when you’ve got the facts, pound the facts. When the facts are against you, pound the law. And when the law is against you, pound the table. Right now, LightSquared is pounding the law, as the technical results of the GPS investigation were quite clear: their system will interfere with most commercial and military GPS units.

That they went to the NASA Inspector General is instructive, since NASA has nothing to do with this issue.

Note that the law is also against LightSquared. I expect them to soon start pounding the table.

FAA grants exemption, allowing ultra-light plane to resume whooping crane escort flight

Gee, isn’t that nice of them: The FAA has granted a one time waiver, allowing an ultra-light plane to resume this year’s whooping crane escort flight.

This infuriates me. What business is it of the FAA whether the ultra-light plane pilots make money on this or not?

This is a perfect example of “mission creep.” The FAA was originally chartered to manage airports, install required landing and navigational equipment, and monitor the designs of aircraft for safety hazards. Somehow, this mission now includes regulating who and what aviation groups are allowed to make money. Disgusting.

A U.S.-Canadian partnership to re-establish migrating cranes has been halted by the FAA because it doesn’t meet its regulations.

We’re here to help you! A U.S.-Canadian partnership to re-establish migrating cranes using human-powered ultralights has been halted by the FAA because it doesn’t meet its regulations.

FAA regulations say only pilots with commercial pilot licenses can fly for hire. The pilots of Operation Migration’s plane are instead licensed to fly sport aircraft because that’s the category of aircraft that the group’s small, open plane with its rear propeller and bird-like wings falls under. FAA regulations also prohibit sport aircraft – which are sometimes of exotic design – from being flown to benefit a business or charity. The rules are aimed, in part, at preventing businesses or charities from taking passengers for joyrides in sometimes risky planes.

What goddamn business is it of the FAA to “prohibit sport aircraft … from being flown to benefit a business or charity”? Isn’t that exactly how the aviation industry got started, taking passengers on short flights during the barnstorming era?

FAA tests find that LightSquared’s broadband system interferes “with a flight safety system designed to warn pilots of approaching terrain.”

FAA tests have found that LightSquared’s broadband system interferes with flight safety systems.

These results are in addition to the tests that found LightSquared interferes with 75% of all GPS units.

House proposes trimming budget of FAA’s commercial space office

A House subcommittee has proposed trimming the budget of the FAA’s commercial space office from the $15.2 million it received in 2010 and 2011 to $13 million for 2012.

This is good, to my mind. Cutting their budget will pull the teeth from their regulatory efforts. As the commercial space industry ramps up, the political pressure on this office to approve permits will increase, and if they are short of cash they will have no choice but to keep things simple and say yes.

Update: Thanks to Joe2 for noting my error: the budget numbers above have been corrected to millions, not billions.

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