The political, technological, and economic landscape for spaceflight has never been more favorable to new entrants. This rapidly expanding industry has placed growing pressure on National Airspace System (NAS) regulators to develop the means and methods to ensure equal airspace access to all participants while preserving current achievements in safety and efficiency. NATCA has participated in or observed numerous workgroups, safety panels, aviation rulemaking committees, simulations, and symposiums to help ensure the success of this effort.
The White House released three Space Policy Directives last year designed to foster success of the commercial space sector and there is bipartisan congressional support as well. The policymaking priorities are national security, economic opportunity, and technological innovation. National security is the most important priority as the United States intelligence apparatus and defense strategies rely heavily on satellite surveillance for force projection and deterrence capabilities. Military superiority has its roots in maintaining fundamental technological superiority and fostering a dynamic U.S. space industry is seen as a critical requirement for U.S. space security.
Secondly, the global space economy is currently valued at $360 billion and is projected to grow at a 5.6 percent rate to $558 billion by 2026. This activity equals jobs and tax revenues and the governments of China, European Union, India, Russia, Japan, and South Korea are competing vigorously with the United States for these opportunities. The current political climate has also energized a thirst for regulatory streamlining. Currently, to conduct a launch or reentry, operators must submit to a robust application review process undertaken by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). AST approves numerous elements including: launch and reentry sites, flight termination system testing, and whether the launch is compliant with public safety regulations, international law, U.S. treaty obligations, and domestic national security interests. Like any business, the commercial space industry would like to see its regulatory oversight significantly streamlined, and the timelines from application to launch compressed.
For commercial space to grow at industry’s desired rate, most industry pundits agree that the strategy of segregating space operations must evolve in favor of integrating these activities. To integrate launch and re-entry activities, the airspace volumes associated with segregation, typically presented to controllers as Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) and Stationary Altitude Reservations (ALTRV), will likely need to be reduced in both size and duration through the application of on-the-glass ATC decision support tools.
As the launch and recovery tempo both increases and diversifies away from the coastal launch ranges, the impacts of launch and re-entry events will also increase and it will be necessary to mitigate these impacts. Work has started on programs designed to address these needs. The FAA recently began the ongoing implementation of Acceptable Level of Risk (ALR) procedures for the radar environment. ALR is a safety criterion designed to accommodate commercial space operations while limiting the overall risk level to air traffic operations during space launches and reentries. It is implemented by applying course restrictions to areas surrounding existing closed airspace near launch and re-entry sites. The Space Data Integrator (SDI) Tool, currently in the FAA acquisition process, aims to introduce near real-time space vehicle situational awareness at the Air Traffic Control System Command Center and Traffic Management Unit level. The Hazard Risk and Management (HRAM) Tool has the potential to fulfill the need for on-the-glass decision support tool.
Providing the controller workforce with the tools to move from segregation-based procedures to an integration-centric system will permit commercial space operations to thrive and prosper while preserving current NAS safety and efficiency levels.