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NASA, FAA Announce Agreement on Regulation of Commercial Crew Spaceflight


Boeing is one of several companies working with NASA to develop U. S. commercial crew transportion services to the International Space Station. In this illustration, Boeing's seven passenger CST-100 prepares to dock to the orbiting research lab. Image Credit/Boeing


NASA and the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration unveiled a far-reaching agreement for the oversight of future U. S.commercial human spaceflight on Monday.

Human missions, like those involving the launch of commercial satellites and cargos to the International Space Station, will require an FAA license to launch and, if appropriate, re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere for recovery.

However, the five-page Memorandum of Understanding signed by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta retains space agency responsibility for the safety of the astronauts, whether foreign or domestic, assigned to NASA missions — like those carrying crews to the space station.

The FAA retains its traditional role in U. S.aviation for the safeguard of the the public during the launch, re-entry and landing of commercial spacecraft with passengers, whether on commercial or NASA missions.

The two officials outlined the MOU in a news briefing.

“We want to avoid conflicting requirements and multiple sets of standards, all while protecting the public and crew safety,” said Bolden. “This agreement is another important step in bringing the business of launching Americans into space back to U. S. soil, safely and efficiently.”

The U. S.has not had a crew or cargo launch capability for missions destined for the NASA-managed International space Station since the shuttle program was retired in mid-2011. NASA has since relied onRussiafor the transport of astronauts to and from the space station.

“We have working together, our two agencies, on commercial human spaceflight for the last couple of years,” noted Huerta. “The signature of this MOU solidified our commitment to this effort for many years to come.”

NASA’s responsibilities for crew safety will be exercised at the Flight Readiness Review stage of its missions — the formal pre-launch evaluation of mission preparations. During the FRR, NASA will be called upon to provide its certification of crew safety before the FAA license to launch astronauts is granted to a commercial carrier.

NASA’s initiative to foster multiple commercial human space transportation systems envisions at 2017 first launch — if Congress provides the funding at the levels requested by the Obama administration.

SpaceX’s successful cargo demonstration mission to the space station in May, which was FAA licensed, indicates NASA may have at least one and possibly two U. S. commercial cargo providers by the end of this year.

Under the terms of the MOU, NASA will not be involved in the licensing of future commercial human spaceflight, if the agency is not involved in the mission.

For instance, NASA would not play a role in U. S.commercial missions involving tourists launched on orbital missions or passengers launched to a private space station, like the inflatable research platforms proposed by Bigelow Aerospace.

The FAA itself is barred legislatively from imposing flight crew restrictions on non-NASA missions though 2015, a restriction that could be extended, or lifted.

“This is a conversation that I’m sure we will be continuing in a collaborative way with industry in the years ahead,” said Huerta.

NASA is seeking $830 million to enter a third stage of commercial crew transportation services development as part of the Obama Administration’s 2013 budget request. However, the House and Senate have trimmed the amount to $500 million and $525 million respectively, though the Congressional appropriations process is not yet complete.

Under current planning, NASA intends to select two companies for 21 months of future development in mid-July. A third company would receive a reduced amount of development funding for the period, said Bolden.

As those activities draw to a close, NASA would issue a request for proposals from the U. S. aerospace community to complete the development of flight services.

Any U. S. company would be eligible to bid, even if it had not received NASA development funding previously.




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