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At Senate hearings numerous launch companies complain of regulatory bottleneck

At a hearing in the Senate yesterday officials from SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic all expressed strong concerns about how the regulatory bottleneck at the FAA is damaging the entire launch business.

Gerstenmaier emphasized that the FAA’s commercial space office “needs at least twice the resources that they have today” for licensing rocket launches. While he acknowledged the FAA is “critical to enabling safe space transportation,” Gerstenmaier added that the industry is “at a breaking point.”

“The FAA has neither the resources nor the flexibility to implement its regulatory obligations,” Gerstenmaier said.

…The other four panelists’ testimonies largely echoed SpaceX’s viewpoint on the need to bolster the FAA’s ranks and speed up the process of approving rocket launches. Phil Joyce, Blue Origin senior vice president of New Shepard, said the FAA “is struggling to keep pace” with the industry “and needs more funding to deal with the increase in launches.”

Likewise, industry expert Caryn Schenewerk, a former leader at SpaceX and Relativity Space, said that the FAA’s recent changes have yet to “streamline licensing reviews” and instead have “proven more cumbersome and costly.”

Wayne Monteith — a retired Air Force brigadier general who also led the FAA’s space office — said that Congress should consider consolidating space regulations. “I believe a more efficient one stop shop approach to authorizing and licensing space activities is necessary,” Monteith said.

As always, the focus is on giving the government agency “more resources”. No one ever suggests that maybe its inability to meet the demand is because of mission creep, in which the government continually grabs more regulatory power than it is supposed to have, which then requires it to have additional resources, which then allows it to grab even more power, which then requires more resources, and on and on the merry-go-round goes.

To really solve this problem we need to trim the regulatory framework. The FAA’s responsibilities must be cut, not enhanced. It must be told it “will issue” launch licenses, rather than take the position it “might issue” them. It also must be told to cut back on the checklists it is demanding from companies. All that should concern it is scheduling and arranging air traffic and the launch range to prevent conflicts. Beyond that any regulation is simply overreach, and is something that was never under its control in the past.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Patrick Underwood

    Sounds like the FWS is as big a problem here as the FAA. Maybe more so. They seem to be managing the shutdown of Starship quite handily, based no doubt on the opinion of one or a few environmentalist zealots on staff.

    Because they can. We, through our Congressional representatives, gave the administrative state everything it needed to overwhelm the rest of government. No one in that state can be fired. The Pentagon won’t even fire its known Iranian spies. The DOJ openly laughs at Congress and at us. Grandmas serving twenty years, terrorists celebrated and rewarded.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Amen to reduce the regulatory framework.


    We conducted large scale space operations for 60+ years without the FAA. The USAF, NASA and US Navy took charge, depending on mission and objectives. The lead service / agency coordinated with the others for launch facilities, weather, tracking services and recovery services as needed. The services / agencies imposed their own stringent standards to prevent injury / damage to civilian life and property. The FAA (and USCG) was consulted to prevent rockets flying through airliners and to issue NOTAMs and other warnings.

    If we really wanted to get to the moon, NASA could tell the FAA “We got this” and work directly with SpaceX to conduct the launches and tests needed. If SpaceX was launching a pure commercial effort (Axiom or Dear Moon or Polaris) the FAA could torture, errr, excuse me, regulate them to the FAA’s contentment. Likewise, National Security missions could be handled by the USAF, USSF or USN as mission dictated it.

    This site has discussed in the past the wisdom of SpaceX building Boca Chica. Maybe it would have been wiser to build the first pads at the Cape. Hard to adjust now.

  • Doubting Thomas: The FAA and Fish & Wildlife are involved because Congress passed laws making them involved. To change this the law has to be changed, from a Congress so incompetent and dysfunctional that it can’t even pass legal budgets. Don’t expect things to get better, until this Congress and especially its anti-American Democrats are largely replaced.

    I wonder whose job that is.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Robert – That is our job – if we are allowed to do it.

    My Republican congressman here in my district in Texas is useless. Of course, we also have Senator Cornyn who is “of the Swamp”.

    Since you spend time with Robert Pratt, you already know the disaster of the Texas House and it looks like the House in Washington wishes to emulate the same situation.

    I merely suggested that another path was possible which might take our national programs out of the clutches of FWS and other bureaucratic burdens. But totally agree with “Reduce Regulations” Need to do the same in our commercial nuclear power industry.

  • Doubting Thomas: For almost my entire life Americans refused to take on the responsibility of citizenship and do their job. They voted for the mess we’ve got, because it was too much work to pay attention. And that is why it is likely we won’t be allowed to do our job in future elections.

  • Richard M

    This site has discussed in the past the wisdom of SpaceX building Boca Chica. Maybe it would have been wiser to build the first pads at the Cape. Hard to adjust now.

    It’s not like SpaceX didn’t consider it. But the Cape has its own disadvantages. Imagine trying to clear all those Starship hop tests in 2019-21 with the Eastern Range as it was constituted then, to say nothing of all the various non-flight tests they do. Imagine, too, how uneasy NASA, the Space Force, and commercial tenants would have been at a flight test regime of such an unprecedentedly large launch vehicle. Where would they have built a Starbase? All of those launch sites at CCSFS are packed awfully close together. And they would still have had to work with the FAA.

    I certainly do not know enough to evaluate the decision. (It may be a long time before we do.) But I can see just enough to understand that it was anything but an easy decision to try doing all this at the Cape.

  • Richard M

    To really solve this problem we need to trim the regulatory framework. The FAA’s responsibilities must be cut, not enhanced.

    Reading through SpaceX’s ten recommendations in Gerst’s testimony, it does appear that they are urging a “both/and” approach. Trim the responsibilities, but put more resources into the ones that remain.

    (1) Provide AST with significantly more resources (at least 2x) and expedited hiring authority to move quickly to bring onboard additional, qualified technical experts to keep pace with license review. These resources should be specifically (and only) authorized and appropriated for the AST Licensing Division.
    (2) Provide AST with new authorities to enable license applicants to self-fund qualified, third-party technical organizations to bolster and expedite AST license review where needed.
    (3) Provide AST with additional resources and direct AST personnel to travel to launch operator locations to conduct in-person Technical Interchange Meetings (TIM) on-site with license applicants.
    (4) Establish shorter mandatory timelines to initiate review, conduct interagency consultations, and complete license applications, and eliminate the tolling loophole. The license application process should be electronic and automated to the maximum extent possible.
    (5) Direct clarity updates to Part 450 and establish standard, expedited processes for regular and routine license application review, especially for mature vehicles that launch or reenter frequently.
    (6) Direct AST to focus only on public safety, not mission success. This is an absolutely critical element of space launch and re-entry licensing that has been lost in interpretation. As noted, AST is not responsible for mission assurance, nor is it qualified to perform this function.
    (7) Provide authority to expediently issue waivers to outmoded requirements that do not impact public safety.
    (8) Accelerate environmental reviews by extending existing authority used for airports to space launch and reentry infrastructure, and to provide expedited review for projects of national interest and national security.
    (9) Establish an accelerated regulatory path, potentially independent of AST, for development and for experimental missions that support national requirements like the Artemis Program.
    (10) Align external regulatory timelines and reviews.

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