FAA Commercial Space Transportation may “promote”, but a strong statement about SMS vigilance needed

gen. monteith at astronaut memorial
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Brig. General Wayne R. Monteith, USAF (R), FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation,says AST 

will “accelerate” and “promote” Space Travel 

the legislative history of PROMOTE signals need for SAFETY

Brig. General Wayne R. Monteith, USAF (R), is the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation. In two recent public statements he made it clear that

Commercial space activity is in the midst of a significant surge. The growth of the industry presents new challenges and opportunities as the technology evolves, and the number of industry participants expands. The FAA is committed to keeping pace with the growth of commercial space transportation, while prioritizing safety and ensuring access for all users of the National Airspace System (NAS). …The … Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), licenses and permits the launch and reentry of commercial space vehicles consistent with public health and safety, safety of property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States. The mission AST carries out includes the responsibility to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial space transportation. These statutory objectives provide a framework that has resulted in an impressive safety record for a rapidly growing industry.

This message was delivered to the US House of Representatives, Transportation & Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee on June 16, 2021 and basically reiterated at the 36th Space Symposium on August 25, 2021. Quotes from the General’s Symposium speech:

 

A regulatory agency can either be an accelerator or an inhibitor of industry, he said. “We choose to be an accelerator.

“But all of those mishaps don’t move a whisker of Monteith’s post-Air Force gray beard unless they wind up impacting the group he calls the ‘uninvolved public.’”

 ‘Right now, we operate under an informed consent regime,’ Monteith said. In other words, let the flyer beware.

“The worst case is a catastrophic failure,” he said. “Then, we will regulate.”launch failure

 

 

The General’s enthusiasm about these future commercial flights into the heavens is not surprising given his command of 45th Space Wing, where he oversaw the successful execution of 66 launches, 23 booster landings and the successful operational use of autonomous flight safety systems. Mr. Monteith has also served as the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force (Space) and as Commander of the 50th Space Wing.

The Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984, as amended and re-codified at 51 U.S.C. 50901 – 50923, gives some authority for his more laissez-faire like approach:

 

(b) Purposes.—The purposes of this chapter are—

“(1) to promote economic growth and entrepreneurial activity through use of the space environment for peaceful purposes;

(2) to encourage the United States private sector to provide launch vehicles, reentry vehicles, and associated services by—

(A) simplifying and expediting the issuance and transfer of commercial licenses;

(B) facilitating and encouraging the use of Government-developed space technology; and

(C) promoting the continuous improvement of the safety of launch vehicles designed to carry humans, including through the issuance of regulations, to the extent permitted by this chapter…

The Associate Administrator may not be aware of the legislative history of the word PROMOTE”as applied to aviation” There was a time when the FAA was authorized to support aviation, but then a Member of Congress, now the chair of the Committee before which he was testifying, decided to delete that word. The stated rational was that such activity diminished the FAA’s safety focus.

Chairman DeFazio

 

 

 

 

There is no doubt that the Commercial Space Launch Act explicitly authorizes his approach to regulating launches and reentry. The potential for a catastrophic failure exists and such tragedies tend to garner an undue amount of Congressional attention. Members are endowed with perfect 20/20 revisionist hindsight; so, it is quite possible that their past clear authorization may be revisited and even reversed.

The AST speechwriters might want to include, in the Associate Administrator’s future speeches,  heavy references to their office’s Safety Management System Manual. Reciting actions on SMS, Safety Policy, Safety Policy, Safety Risk Management, Safety Assurance, Safety Promotion and the staff’s careful review of each licensee might establish a better performance-based assessment safety record in the event of a future problem.

ss vigilance


 

Top FAA regulator pledges a light hand for commercial space industry

From the 36th Space Symposium: Full Coverage series

 symposium cover

 

The Federal Aviation Administration’s top regulator for space flight says his agency is struggling to keep up with the rapid growth of the commercial space industry as it wrestles with new issues including whether it should ensure the safety of space tourists and which of them should get commercial astronaut’s wings.

Wayne R. Monteith, a retired Air Force general who served for years in space billets in Colorado Springs is now the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation. He told a Space Symposium crowd at The Broadmoor Wednesday that to a large extent, he’s trying to keep his agency out of the way of the rush to space.

A regulatory agency can either be an accelerator or an inhibitor of industry,” he said. “We choose to be an accelerator.”

Monteith and AST logoMonteith’s agency has overseen commercial space launches since the 1980s, but it used to be a small job. Just a decade ago, the agency licensed a single commercial launch over the course of the year. This year, Monteith expects to authorize more than 60 launches, and expects the pace to accelerate for years to come.

But a license to launch is nothing like a driver’s license. Fender benders and wrong turns are permitted as long as no one gets hurt.

About 15 percent of the launches we license have a mishap,Monteith said, using the space industry’s polite word used to replace harsher terms including explosion, crash, and massivespace x crash on landing fireball.

But all of those mishaps don’t move a whisker of Monteith’s post-Air Force gray beard unless they wind up impacting the group he calls the “uninvolved public.”

“We do public safety, not mission assurance,” he said.

….

astronaut

But before you strap yourself to a rocket, read the fine print. If things go wrong, Monteith’s agency won’t send so much as a sympathy card.

 “Right now, we operate under an informed consent regime,” Monteith said. In other words, let the flyer beware.

Monteith warned, though, that mishaps for manned space flight that escalate to what he called “catastrophe,” have consequences.

“The worst case is a catastrophic failure,” he said. “Then, we will regulate.”

Monteith is very interested in regulations governing whether those who survive their tourist ride to space will get a federal trophy tospace memorial remember the trip.

Right now, anyone who reaches 50 miles above the planet and can fit into a wide definition of “flight crew” is entitled to federal astronaut’s wings. But Monteith is figuring out whether paying passengers should get the honor.

“Right now, I don’t want to be in the business of who gets the duty title of astronaut. But we are in it,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

passengers

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