The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a new streamlined launch and reentry rule (PDF) that replaces prescriptive requirements with performance-based criteria. The new rule — SLR2 — allows launch and reentry vehicle operators to focus on innovation as it replaces cumbersome, prescriptive requirements with flexible, performance-based criteria.
Under the President’s Space Policy Directive-2 (SPD-2), the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is consolidating and revising multiple regulatory parts and applying a single set of licensing and safety regulations across several types of operations and vehicles. The new rule requires a single license for all types of commercial space flight launch and reentry operations, and increases flexibility for launch and reentry vehicle operators.
Four separate regulations, Parts 415, 417, 431, and 435, were combined into a single performance-based Part 450 rule to better accommodate the evolving commercial space transportation industry. Part 450 is more flexible because it encompasses more types of launch and reentry operations. It allows an applicant to use a means of compliance identified by the FAA, or propose unique means of compliance that meet the safety standards of the regulation.
The FAA released three Advisory Circulars concurrently with this rule: AC 450.101-1 High Consequence Protection (PDF), AC 450.115-1 High Fidelity Flight Safety Analysis (PDF) and AC 450.141-1 Computing Systems Safety (PDF). The FAA encourages the public to comment on each AC within 30 days of issuance using the form at the end of each document. The FAA will update more rules over the coming years.
On August 19, 2019, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) comment period closed, with a total of 157 submissions from 85 commenters, and two submissions containing proprietary information.
There is a significant uptick in the cadence and complexity of proposed launch and reentry vehicles. Thirty-three licensed space operations occurred in fiscal year 2020 compared to only three in 2011. AST forecasts a continued increase in the coming years and expects a commercially viable human spaceflight participant landscape involving space tourism that could lead to 100-plus flights per year.
AST reorganized in 2019 to increase the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the organization, allowing it to scale its processes to meet the increased licensing demand over the next several years.
AST is taking a multi-pronged approach to meet the growing needs of the commercial space industry:
- Establishing a new streamlined regulation for launch and reentry activities
- Reorganizing along functional lines to increase accountability;
- Retooling internal processes for effectiveness and efficiency; and
- Hiring additional staff with the right skills to meet tomorrow’s demands.
The FAA is responsible for ensuring protection of the public, property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the U.S. during commercial launch or reentry activities, and for encouraging, facilitating, and promoting U.S. commercial space transportation. To date, AST has licensed or permitted more than 380 launches and reentries.