By Frank Ochoa-Gonzales
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
In the past, launch pads were used almost exclusively for government missions. To support a growing private sector space economy, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has transformed to a multi-user spaceport capable of handling the needs of a variety of companies from launch processing through recovery. NASA, the FAA, and Air Force Space Command provide diverse launch operations, government and commercial, enabled by the Commercial Space Launch Act. These agencies are working together to simplify the steps to certify commercial launches from Kennedy Space Center’s multi-user spaceport.
“We want to drive innovation in the launch and space exploration fields, and that innovation can be balanced on the private side with adjustments on our end,” said Janet Petro, deputy director of Kennedy Space Center “That’s why we are taking this opportunity to examine all of the government requirements and eliminate those that are not necessary. We will maintain safety, but if there are requirements that are unnecessary, then no one benefits.”
Kennedy does not levy any additional licensing requirements beyond the minimum for commercial launch operations, Petro explained.
“It’s been a process that has educated a lot of people in the Air Force and NASA about how commercial operations on Kennedy property can work,” said Petro, referring to the dialogue among the Air Force, FAA and NASA regarding government cooperation supporting industry.
Additionally, NASA’s Launch Services Program, which procures launch vehicles for NASA spacecraft, has developed processes to shorten the path to launch in recent years as the industry and government work toward making launch processes more efficient and cost effective.
The interagency approach states there should be one process that will benefit the customer for commercial missions from Kennedy Space Center — that of the FAA. Although Kennedy will independently manage launch schedules and risks associated with hazardous operations, the center also will coordinate with the 45th Space Wing by providing it with prelaunch information so that the launch safety responsibilities of all parties are satisfied.
“We have agreements with our commercial partners for operations on Kennedy, but if the mission includes landing or recovery service from the 45th Space Wing, the partner would develop a separate agreement with the Air Force,” said Petro. “We have solidified our relationships with the Air Force and the FAA, clarified roles and responsibilities among all three agencies, and have emphasized that the FAA licensing process is the single process that Kennedy’s commercial partners must use to satisfy their launch licensing obligations.”
Last year, Florida’s spaceport supported 23 launches and expects an even greater number of launches in the next few years.