Future Looks (Mostly) Bright for Space Industry in DC

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is being held in Colorado through today. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks are there tweeting away:

  • Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
  • Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
  • Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News
  • Laura Seward Forczyk @LauraForczyk

Below are updates based upon their tweets on what is happening in Washington, DC, from talks by officials from the FAA, NASA, and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

Eric Stallmer
Commercial Spaceflight Federation

  • Things are looking up in Washington for the space industry
  • Vice President Mike Pence (head of National Space Council) is incredibly enthusiastic about commercial space
  • Lack of commercial space representatives at signing ceremony for National Space Council revival has been addressed since
  • Met Ivanka Trump who believes commercial sector can get humans back to the moon
  • Jim Bridenstine is ideal candidate for NASA Administrator, hopes Senate will confirm his appointment “very soon”
  • Senate asked for increase in NASA Flight Opportunities Program (FOP) budget from $10 million to $20 million for FY 2018
  • Funding increase in FOP budget would not necessarily be used for suborbital flights
  • Expecting Congress to resume work on FY 2018 budget in January
  • President Donald Trump will likely propose FY 2019 budget in February
  • Not clear whether administration will try to cut programs such as FOP budget to pay for human missions to moon

George Nield
Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation
FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation

  • Great year for launches in 2017, looking forward to even better 2018 with Falcon Heavy and Google Lunar X Prize
  • Four companies – SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic — are within 12 to 18 months of flying people into space
  • Offering recommendations to streamline regulations and shorten launch approvals in response to National Space Council request for a plan within 45 days
  • FAA AST had been thinking about how to reduce regulations for a long time
  • Brainstormed ideas and received input from SpaceX
  • Would like to cut application review process in half to 90 days, a process that would cost $10 million
  • Use of waivers where a new approach is not covered by existing regulations
  • Reusable vehicles will be covered by less prescriptive rules than used for expendable boosters to allow for more flexibility
  • Considering safety approvals based on reasonable criteria
  • Rule making process has a lot of constraints and can take up to five years
  • Believes FAA should regulate “non-traditional” missions such as private lunar landers and satellite servicing missions that are not under any agency’s jurisdiction at present
  • Approval for Moon Express private lunar landing mission used an ad-hoc process
  • Urged industry to create a program to fly teachers at all levels on suborbital spaceflight
  • Could start with one teacher from each state and go from there
  • Develop terrestrial space tourism markets include parabolic flights, centrifuge, high-performance jets and hybrid launch systems
  • Praised American Space Renaissance Act introduced by Jim Bridenstine (nominee to run NASA) as having a lot of good ideas in it
  • Excited about the prospect of “game changing” point-to-point suborbital passenger travel – Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Germany talking about it
  • Make point-to-point travel a national goal with research, flight tests and public-private partnership

Steve Jurczyk
Associate Administrator
NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate

  • At an “inflection point” for suborbital space research
  • FOP funds researchers to fly aboard ZERO-G parabolic aircraft, but will not fly civil servants
  • Does see a path forward for flying NASA internal payloads with civil servants aboard ZERO-G plane
  • FOP had a payload on Blue Origin New Shepard flight last week
  • FOP has a dedicated New Shepard flight booked in about 9 months
  • Working with UP Aerospace to evaluate thermal protection system for entry, descent and landing of payloads from company’s rockets

Steven Collicott
Professor of Aerospace Engineering
Purdue University
Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Suborbital Applications Researchers Group (SARG)

  • SARG pushing to make more use of FOP and to work with other NASA directorates
  • Concerned that some NASA FOP funds designated for commercial suborbital vehicles are being used for other programs such as small satellites
  • Small satellites have other sources of funding while commercial suborbital flights are dependent upon FOP
  • SARG working to promote human-tended suborbital payloads, including on parabolic flights
  • We don’t explore Antarctica with only robots, space should be no different
  • Troubling to hear staffers say how nice it is to hear from real researchers during visits to Congressional offices
  • Suborbital flights make it affordable to repeat experiments, something that is difficult to do with experiments sent to the International Space Station

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