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Commercial Space

Paul Behan is the Article 114 Rep for Commercial Space integration.  

Background: Historically, space launch and reentry operations in the NAS occurred infrequently and were segregated from other operations by containing them within special activity airspace. These launch and reentry operations were conducted almost exclusively by federal agencies, originated from coastal sites, and air traffic was routed around the SAA to ensure public safety. Given their infrequency and high national priority there was little incentive to make these complex operations more efficient with respect to their effects on NAS efficiency and capacity. NASA and the DoD are no longer the only participants in space launch and reentry operations, there are numerous private companies now launching an increasing number of government and commercial missions into space, often from new places. New launch sites are being developed at inland sites, including dual-use facilities that host both space and traditional aviation operations. As the commercial space transportation industry evolves and becomes more prevalent in the NAS, the FAA must ensure regulatory compliance, create policies & procedures, and develop automation and decision support tools for ATC in order to fully integrate commercial space operations rather than segregate. 

2020 launch numbers 

Despite a global pandemic, in 2020 the FAA licensed 41 commercial space operations, the most in the Agency’s history. 31 of these were from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Florida’s east coast. There were also 17 non-FAA licensed operations for a total of 58 launch/reenrty operations in the United States’ National Airspace System. For 2021, the FAA is forecasting the number of commercially licensed operations could reach 50 or more, with nearly 1 launch per week occurring at Cape Canaveral. 

The Space Data Integrator (SDI) 

The team continues to make progress toward deployment which is now targeting March 2021. They are currently working on submitting documentation on resolved Critical/High Plan of Actions and Milestones (POAMs), which emerged as a result of the IRAT security scan. This gets us one step closer to an Authorization to Operate from FAA security. The vendor responsible for SDI development (AS&T) has been conducting a series of familiarization sessions to train the Joint Space Operations Group (JSpOG) members who will operate the system. These sessions will suffice for training under the Test NCP, however formal training will need to be developed prior to SDI becoming a certified NAS system.  

Acceptable Level of Risk (ALR) 

Several aspects of ALR are being revisited and modified to correct what are believed to be overly restrictive procedures based on inaccurate data/assumptions in the early stages of ALR creation. Most notably this month, the Agency took action to discontinue ALR for capsule returns, specifically the angular THA crossing restriction. A MITRE risk analysis study supports removing these restrictions when a THA is less than 5 NM in width, however a restriction of 2.7 degrees or greater from parallel of the reentry trajectory would be necessary to be in compliance with the Agency’s accepted level of risk. The Agency sought a waiver of the published ALR procedures prior to this month’s return of a SpaceX Dragon capsule which was not obtained. A Safety Risk Mitigation Panel was convened in order to identify and mitigate any hazards which might be introduced by this change. The SRMP did not conclude in a timely enough manner to support eliminating the use of angular restrictions, however ALR was not applied to this return based on the SpaceX failing to provide data to the Office of Commercial Space Transportation in time to calculate the hazard areas. NATCA agreed to suspend the use of ALR for this one mission, however now a memo has since been issued which suspends ALR for all capsule returns until such time new procedures are created and trained. More discussions will need to be had to discuss this change of policy.  

ALR contingency response 

3 Document Change Proposals (DCP’s) relating to the creation of a Debris Response Area (DRA) and associated procedures for response to a debris generating off-nominal event are out for a 45-day field review. Once complete, comments will be adjudicated and an SRMP will convene, likely in late February.  

ALR Training 

Due to the number and extent of the changes being proposed to ALR, the 2019 eLMS course will need to be modified to reflect the new procedures. Sincere there are several aspects which may change with varying timeframes, we have agreed to supplement the existing eLMS with a post-course “delta briefing” which will cover any changes to the material just viewed. This briefing is meant to be a temporary fix until all ALR changes are complete and a new eLMS course can be completed.  

NAS Space Integration Capabilities (NSIC) is a merger of Space Data Integrator Phase 1 (SDI P1) and Space Integration Capabilities (SIC). The ultimate goal is to implement NSIC into existing NAS systems (e.g., TFMS, ERAM, STARS) with the capability of displaying real-time activation/deactivation of launch & reentry hazard areas on the controllers scope. The NSIC team is planning to facilitate an Ops stakeholder briefing by the end of January. This event will help shape a common understanding of NSIC concepts between the Ops and Program Office, as well as feed information into the March JRC briefing packet.  

NAS Integration of Transiting Operations (NITRO) 

This effort is focusing on how the NAS can support the integration of space launch/reentry operations, suborbital operations, and balloon/UAS operations to and from Upper class E airspace. NITRO is still very much in the strategy planning stage and is developing 3, 5, and 7 year goals. NITRO is also exploring the integration of the Central Altitude Reservations Function (CARF) to provide a more efficient strategic deconfliction of operations un Upper Class E airspace. 

LOA development 

Several reentry LOA’s are in development including SpaceX reentry to Gulf & Atlantic sites and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser reentry to Huntsville AL, and also the Shuttle Landing Facility. Both are progressing well and should be prepared for signature in the coming months. 

Upcoming and recurring meetings: 

  • Weekly Mission Support Strategy (AJV-S) meetings 
  • Weekly meetings with AJR, AJV, and PMO counterparts 
  • Weekly MITRE meetings 
  • Weekly NITRO meetings 
  • Bi-weekly Acceptable Level of Risk (ALR) meetings 
  • Bi-weekly Acceptable Level of Risk (ALR) subgroup meetings 
  • Bi-weekly Joint Space Operations Group (JSpOG) meetings 
  • Bi-weekly NAS Space Integration Capabilities (NSIC) 
  • Monthly Space Data Integrator (SDI) meetings 
  • Quarterly Technical Interchange Meetings (TIM’s) 
  • LOA development meetings – ongoing 
  • Training development – ongoing 
  • Facility/site visits – as needed 
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