FAA Must Regulate, Not Promote Space Industry, Lawmaker Says

The U.S. government’s edict to both regulate and promote the rapidly growing commercial space industry is a conflict of interest and must end, a senior lawmaker said.

Representative Peter DeFazio, the Oregon Democrat who is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he would introduce legislation to alter the Federal Aviation Administration’s mandate. The committee heard comments Wednesday on the agency’s role in space regulation.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation has seen a 400% increase in space launches over the past five years, with a licensed launch occurring about every five days, said Wayne Monteith, the associate administrator who oversees the space office.

Many companies are now entering the space market, including Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Richard Branson-backed Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin plans to launch the billionaire into space on July 20. The company raised $28 million on Saturday by auctioning a seat on the flight to an unidentified bidder.

In addition to overseeing the commercial space industry, federal law calls on the FAA to “encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space launches and reentries by the private sector.” DeFazio said it’s time to end that “dual mandate” and let the FAA focus on regulating the burgeoning industry.

The agency previously had a similar mandate to both promote the traditional aviation industry as well as to regulate its safety, but Congress ended that practice in the late 1990s after a spate of airline crashes.

“We don’t do, quite frankly, a whole lot of encouraging and for promotion it is all about promoting safety standards,” Monteith said in response to questions about how the FAA advances the commercial space industry. “We don’t do marketing.”

Another witness, Heather Krause of the Government Accountability Office, said the Transportation Department last reviewed the dual mandate 13 years ago. She recommended another such review given major changes in the industry.

DeFazio said he’s also concerned about the pace of the FAA’s efforts to integrate commercial space traffic into the national airspace, with scant progress over the past five years. The FAA will conduct the first operational test of integration systems in the next few months, Monteith said.

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