May 09, 2019 - 1:00pm

Interaction in Flight: Balancing Aviation and Commercial Launch


Executive Director, Procurement and Space Industry Council

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Kelvin Coleman, Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration spoke at a U.S. Chamber Procurement and Space Industry Council roundtable.
Kelvin Coleman, Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration spoke at a U.S. Chamber Procurement and Space Industry Council roundtable.

“We want to enable new and innovative commercial space transportation operations alongside our traditional air carrier operations.”

– FAA Deputy Associate Administrator Kelvin Coleman, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, May 6, 2019

With an expected ramp up of licensing for future commercial space launches over densely trafficked U.S. airspace, the U.S. Chamber’s Procurement and Space Industry Council convened a recent roundtable of key agency and industry principals to discuss policy options and tradeoffs.

As U.S. Chamber CEO and President Tom Donohue often remarks, space is the new economic frontier. The U.S. has historically led the way in space exploration, and we must lead the way in commercial space.

The sector is accelerating, and the task is to shape industry practices within the tolerances of oversight agencies while not stifling the pace of innovation. The challenges are many in this regard. How we de-conflict and manage use of controlled airspace will largely determine the success of commercial space here at home.  

To be clear, the current regulatory regime is not scalable. In conjunction with near term expected users of orbital/sub orbital transport, we must ensure that commercial passenger aviation remains at the forefront of all planning.

As Sharon Pinkerton of Airlines for America noted, the “FAA does need to update their policies and procedures in order to ensure that we have both safe and efficient integration of commercial space activities with commercial aviation activities.”

Commercial space transportation can be defined by a number of descriptors – diversity of vehicles, flight characteristics, purpose of transit, crewed or autonomous, and duration of mission.

But one thing that ties those disparate characteristics together is this: each commercial space vehicle must transit from zero altitude and accelerate through the atmosphere. Increased launches, variation of flight paths, and multiplicity of geographical points of ascent, is a challenge even for low volume of traffic.

Decreased launch costs are enabling new entrants with new approaches. While disruption is a challenge, it offers opportunity for air and non-air breathing communities to adopt new standards and methods.

The collective goal must be the safe and efficient operation of platforms across all users, with particular attention to crewed and passenger vehicles. Interaction in flight must be managed within the acceptable risk margins agreeable to all industry participants and the traveling public.

There are long poles in the tent, namely the sheer physics that require mitigation procedures far beyond those in place today. The council objective earlier this week was to define what a mature future regulatory environment should look like.

Autonomy, on-orbit maneuver, AI applications, additive manufacturing, and mineral and material harvesting beyond Earth – all yield to the inescapable observation that we are on the verge of connecting terrestrial and orbital on-station activities no different than the interconnected economies of far flung cities around the globe.

But that future begins here, with finding a balanced way to manage the critical needs of the aviation community alongside commercial launch. One cannot benefit at the expense of the other.

To learn more watch the webcast here.

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About the Author

About the Author

Christian Zurr
Executive Director, Procurement and Space Industry Council

Christian Zur acts as liaison between Chamber member companies and Congress on defense and space policy, and represents the Chamber on numerous national security industry coalitions.