Richard Branson Gets His Astronaut Wings, Aims to Eliminate Asterisk* Next Time

Unity 22 crew: Michael Masucci, Colin Bennett, Richard Branson, Sirisha Bandla, David Mackay and Beth Moses at the 37th Space Symposium. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Billionaire aims to go higher and faster next time
  • Virgin Galactic still can’t get SpaceShipTwo all the way up (to Karman line)
  • FAA throws in the towel on deciding who is and who isn’t an astronaut

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Earlier this month, Richard Branson and two Virgin Galactic employees received commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity flight test they took part in last July. The trio was the last group to receive the wings — FAA ended the program last year — and the honors came with a pretty big asterisk.

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FAA Decides Bezos, Branson and Shatner Are Astronauts After All

  • Everyone who exceeds 50 miles by Dec. 31 will receive commercial astronaut wing even if they were just passengers
  • Nobody after that will even if they pilot a ship
  • Agency reverses earlier decision to award wings only to those essential to flight operations/success
  • FAA says this is what was intended all along

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) – With the advent of the commercial space tourism era, starting in 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will now recognize individuals who reach space on its website instead of issuing Commercial Space Astronaut Wings. Any individual who is on an FAA-licensed or permitted launch and reaches 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth will be listed on the site. 

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FAA Opens Houston Space Safety Office to Increase Oversight of Texas and New Mexico Operations

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) opened a safety field office in Houston to increase its oversight of commercial space operations in Texas and New Mexico.

From this location, FAA inspectors will be able to more effectively and efficiently monitor the ongoing testing programs and commercial space tourism operations of SpaceX and Blue Origin in Texas and Virgin Galactic in New Mexico, along with others in the region.

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FAA, DLR to Cooperate on Integrating Commercial Spaceflight into Air Traffic Control System

WASHINGTON (DLR PR) — The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the Office of Commercial Space Transportation of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are seeking to identify the data that may need to be exchanged between United States and European Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) prior to, during and after a space launch or re-entry operation that is initiated in one country and traverses the airspace of another country.

This data exchange should facilitate improved situational awareness, allowing US and European ANSPs to respond as necessary in the event of a vehicle failure. To this end, the FAA and DLR intend to bring together their unique capabilities using FAA’s Commercial Space Integration Lab and DLR’s Air Traffic Validation Center, located in the USA and Germany respectively.

In order to be able to cooperate and exchange data in the future, a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) in the development of commercial space transportation was signed by Pascale Ehrenreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board, and Wayne R. Monteith, Associate Administrator, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, on 24 October 2019. The signatory ceremony was held at DLR’s stand at the 70th International Astronautical Congress in Washington, DC.

The MoC reflects the excellent collaboration that FAA and DLR have developed since the first Research and Development Cooperative Agreement of both establishments, which was signed in 2010.

The Federation Welcomes Monteith Appointment to Head FAA AST

Wayne R. Monteith

WASHINGTON (CSF PR) — “On behalf of the commercial spaceflight industry, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation welcomes Brigadier General (Ret.) Wayne Monteith as the FAA’s new Associate Administrator for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation. He brings a wealth of space knowledge and leadership to the office, and we look forward to continued collaboration on policy and regulatory issues to continue the rapid growth of the U.S. commercial space transportation industry.

“Previously, Gen Monteith has held a variety of senior positions in the U.S. Air Force, including leadership of 15,300 military, civilian and contractor personnel responsible for launching U.S. government and commercial satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  He also had been the Air Force’s Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Space.

“The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation is pivotal to the commercial space industry’s continued growth and innovation. We are confident that Gen Monteith will continue its strategic role in the regulation and promotion of commercial launches and reentries that will strengthen and expand our nation’s space transportation capabilities and infrastructure.

“The Commercial Spaceflight Federation also thanks Kelvin Coleman for his leadership as Acting Associate Administrator. His leadership and deep understanding of the commercial space industry has been strategic and instructive during the transition. We are extremely appreciative of Kelvin’s commitment and look forward to continuing to work with him in his role as Deputy Associate Administrator and the rest of the talented, devoted team at AST.”











Montheith Appointed to Head FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation

Wayne R. Monteith

WASHINGTON (DOT PR) – U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine L. Chao today announced Wayne R. Monteith has been appointed to the position of Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Monteith’s appointment is effective January 20, 2019.

Monteith is a proven aerospace leader with nearly 30 years of planning and managing activities to integrate Department of Defense, civil, commercial, and intelligence community space capabilities. Monteith is a recently retired US Air Force Brigadier General who previously served as the Commander, 45th Space Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida and led operations for the busiest and most successful spaceport in the world.

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Polar Launches Could Be Coming to Florida

Minotaur-C launch from Vandenberg. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Already experiencing a surge in launches, Florida’s Space Coast could become even busier with the additional of polar orbit launches.

The Air Force has opened a “polar corridor” that would allow certain rockets to launch spacecraft from Cape Canaveral into north-south orbits circling the poles, a development that could bring more launches to Florida.

Polar launches historically have been flown from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s Central Coast, where a small number of missions each year fly south over the Pacific Ocean toward Antarctica.

Cape launches most often head east to send satellites on their way around the equator. Polar trajectories have been avoided since a 1960 Navy launch inadvertently dropped a Thor rocket stage on Cuba, reportedly killing a cow.

But now, says Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the 45th Space Wing, “We can shoot south.”

No near-term missions plan to use the new polar corridor, but over time it could lead to more Cape launches and consolidation of the nation’s launch infrastructure.

This change would not be very good news to Vandenberg or the Pacific Space Complex — Alaska, which both host polar orbit launches.

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A Tale of 2 Launch Ranges: The Best & Worst of Times

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-4 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

America’s Eastern and Western launch ranges in Florida and California are struggling to keep up with increasing demand from the nation’s booming commercial launch industry while dealing with budget uncertainties in Washington, U.S. Air Force officials said last week.

The Eastern Range has been dealing with a surge of flights this year from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as SpaceX has increased its launch cadence. Elon Musk’s company and rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) has launched 18 times from Florida thus far, with two more SpaceX flights on the schedule for later this month.

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