Space Access 12: FAA AST Chief Engineer Mike Kelly

Michael Kelly
Chief Engineer, Office of Commercial Spaceflight
Federal Aviation Administration
“Commercial Human Spaceflight: The Coming Safety Challenge

Changes at FAA

  • AST split in several offices, including chief engineer’s offic
  • Former astronaut Pamela Ann Melroy has been added as senior adviser for human spaceflight — flew on STS-92, 112 and 120 — previously serve as Deputy Program Manager for Space Exploration Initiatives at Lockheed Martin after leaving the astronaut corps
  • reorganizing field offices
  • adding a second position at Mojave, new positions at Wallops and JSC
  • Planned tech center with 50 people at KSC will not happen
  • Moritorium on regulations has been expanded to Oct. 1, 2015 — although FAA can propose rules if there is an accident

Safety Challenges

  • VG will be flying “at some point in the near future”
  • Is the safety community ready for this? No
  • Parallels in Aviation safety — lessons learned through trial, error and accidents
  • Safety history written in blood
  • Space transportation began long ago — also done through trial, safety and accidents
    focused on range safety at first — making sure no one on the ground got hurt, having flight termination system (i.e., bomb that would destroy the vehicle if it goes off course
  • Once crewed launches began, the safety authority was split — NASA responsible for crew safety and Air Force handled range safety at Cape Canaveral

FAA AST and Commercial Spaceflight Issues

  • First time that a single organization, FAA, will be responsible for crew and range safety
  • NASA is concerned about FAA overseing crew safety on commercial vehicles
  • With commercial crew, do you want to have flight termination system?
  • Do you want flight termination system on reusable vehicles
  • Aircraft — range safety (danger to people on the ground) was not  serious concern during early avation days — not many aircraft, little chance of getting hurt — by the time ground safety became an issue, public was used to the risk
  • will there be cross-pollination between rules for suborbital spacecraft and UAVs?
  • FAA dealing with orbital debris rules
  • FAA concerns over amateur rocketry — current rules allow for some rockets that are “breathtaking in their destuctive power”


Q: Where does National Transportation Safety Board fit into the regulatory environment?

Kelly: There is an on-going working group with NSTB and NASA on how to deal with future accidents. Extensive coordination between the groups.

Q.  What about traffic management?

Kelly: Traffic management is a big issues. FAA has no authority to regulate orbital operations.

Q.  Preparations for what happens after there is an accident?

Kelly:  Some people in the industry think that commercial space will come to a halt if there is a fatal accident. He doesn’t believe this; it hasn’t happened before in human history. People have pressed on.

Need to be prepared for it. To write a good regulation, it takes three years. If there is an accident, there will be pressure from Congress to act quickly. Regulations written in a month are not very good ones.