Space Industry Leaders Call on Senators for FAA Regulatory Improvements

Space Industry Leaders Call on Senators for FAA Regulatory Improvements

Top executives from leading U.S. space companies have called on senators to enhance the regulatory and licensing processes of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in response to the accelerating pace of rocket launches and increasing competition from China.

During a hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Space and Science, representatives from SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, along with industry experts, highlighted the urgent need for regulatory improvements to meet the demands of the rapidly evolving commercial space launch industry.

Bill Gerstenmaier, SpaceX’s Vice President of Build and Flight Reliability, emphasized the need for the FAA’s commercial space office to receive substantially increased resources. He stressed that the FAA is essential for ensuring safe space transportation but argued that it currently lacks both the resources and flexibility required to fulfill its regulatory obligations. SpaceX is also under contract with NASA to utilize Starship for landing American astronauts on the moon ahead of China.

The hearing primarily centered on the FAA’s role in the space industry, with the regulator notably absent from testifying. An FAA spokesperson acknowledged the need to keep pace with industry demand and expressed the agency’s commitment to attracting, hiring, and retaining additional staff.

Other panelists at the hearing echoed SpaceX’s calls for bolstering the FAA’s resources and streamlining the process for approving rocket launches. Phil Joyce, Blue Origin’s Senior Vice President of New Shepard, noted that the FAA is struggling to keep up with the industry’s growth and requires increased funding to handle the surge in launches. Caryn Schenewerk, an industry expert and former leader at SpaceX and Relativity Space, expressed concerns that recent changes to FAA regulations have not simplified licensing reviews and have, in fact, made the process more cumbersome and costly.

Wayne Monteith, a retired Air Force brigadier general who formerly led the FAA’s space office, suggested that Congress should consider consolidating space regulations to create a more efficient, one-stop-shop approach for authorizing and licensing space activities.

While the industry seeks expedited FAA approvals for uncrewed rocket launches, the executives urged senators to extend a “learning period” that limits the FAA’s regulatory scope, primarily focused on protecting the public. This period is set to expire in January, but the witnesses unanimously argued against introducing new regulations for human spaceflights at this time, as the commercial human spaceflight industry is still relatively new, and there is limited data available on occupant safety.

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