FAA’s Safety Mission
Needs Staff Before New Space Role
The Federal Aviation Administration offered to take on the task of informing commercial, civil and foreign satellite operators of possible on-orbit collisions, while leaving the Defense Department in charge of supporting military space missions. “We think that makes a lot of sense,” George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation. “We are ready to roll up our sleeves, partner with the Defense Department and other stakeholders to see if we can make that work.”
Dr. Nield prior experiences include Senior Scientist for the Advanced Programs Group with the Orbital Sciences Corporation, Astronautical Engineer at the Space and Missile Systems Organization, a Flight Test Engineer at the Air Force Flight Test Center, and an Assistant Professor and Research Director at the USAF Academy, Manager of the Flight Integration Office for the Space Shuttle Program at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and later worked on both the Shuttle/Mir Program and the International Space Station Program. His academic credentials are impressive- a graduate of United States Air Force Academy; Stanford University, M.S. and Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics; and George Washington University, MBA
His testimony before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Aviation, on Federal Aviation Administration Oversight of Commercial Space Transportation added to his statement at the AIAA Space conference:
In addition to the policy guidance Congress gives us, the FAA also relies on Congress for the resources necessary to keep pace with the industry. Since 2006, the number of launch and reentry operations we oversee has increased by 200 percent, the number of licenses and permits we issue has increased by 450 percent, and the number of inspections we perform to ensure safety compliance has increased by 725 percent. Over that same period, our staff has increased by only 42 percent and we have never missed one of our statutorily prescribed time limits for issuing a license or permit.
Our vision at FAA is to be recognized and respected as the world’s foremost authority on commercial space transportation. Congress is critical in helping us realize that vision. As the commercial space transportation industry continues to grow, we must ensure that we maintain our ability to keep pace. The FAA appreciates that so far the appropriations committees have provided the full operations request for AST in fiscal year 2017. This funding is critical to the work we are doing to support the industry that Congress laid the ground work for over three decades ago. We cannot continue our efforts without your guidance and support.
In closing, I would like to quote my predecessor and a true visionary, the late Patti Grace Smith, who passed away just a few weeks ago. Speaking at a conference at the University of California, San Diego, Patti told the audience, “Space is an attitude. It’s a set of capabilities, an acceptance of risk-taking activities to uncover potential breakthroughs and endless possibilities. That is precisely why we love it.”
The increasing size of this space task is exhibited by the following chart:
The US Air Force Space Command includes 38,000 people, some subset thereof is the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) located at Space and Missiles Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base. Its mission is to provide support for the support for the operation, control, and maintenance of a variety of United States Department of Defense and some non-DoD satellites. This involves continual execution of Telemetry, Tracking, and Commanding (TT&C) operations. In addition, the AFSCN provides prelaunch checkout and simulation, launch support, and early orbit support while satellites are in initial or transfer orbits and require maneuvering to their final orbit. The AFSCN provides tracking data to help maintain the catalog of space objects and distributes various data such as satellite ephemeris, almanacs, and other information.
This DoD function appears to be some of what the FAA and DoT indicate that should be transferred to Dr. Neild’s organization. The Department was established to consolidate the various modes of Transportation; so integrating Space Tracking makes good policy sense IF..
There has been a fundamental disagreement between the Administration and the Congress for ten or more years.
Congress is convinced that the FAA has adequate staffing; the FAA senior staff does not.
- Congress feels obligated to add authority and jurisdiction (i.e. Space and Drones [a task which is growing exponentially]; the FAA does what it is told.
- Congress feels obligated to specify assignments, their priorities and deadlines; the FAA takes great time and care to set its agenda, but does what Congress tells it to do—to the best of its ability.
Sec. Foxx, Administrator Huerta and Dr. Neild seem interested to accept this new major function. Hopefully, if the legislation to transfer the job of “informing commercial, civil and foreign satellite operators of possible on-orbit collisions”, Congress will authorize the necessary staff. Otherwise, Administrator Huerta will have to adjust staffing allocations within the FAA to meet this new substantial task. It has been a ZERO SUM EXERCISE with Safety as an ASYMPTOTE.
Please remember Dr. Neild’s testimony of his organization’s dealing with private sector increases of 450% and 720% in requests for services with only a 43% increase is his staff. Those ratios are unlikely to be maintained with this proposal.