As U.S. astronauts enter an age where they are flying to space on commercial vehicles as well as government rockets, federal regulators are strengthening the bonds between the different agencies that license those flights, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said today.
NASA has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that will support support commercial space activities related to the transport of government and non-government passengers, cargo, and payloads for both orbital and suborbital missions.
The deal follows the November 15, 2020, launch of SpaceX Crew-1, the flight that used a private-sector rocket built by entrepreneur and engineer Elon Musk’s California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX). That successful mission carried three astronauts from NASA and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) into orbit to begin a six-month science mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
In addition to the flight’s technical success, it also marked the first crewed mission from American soil that required an FAA license, a bureaucratic wrinkle that will now be smoothed out by the new agreement, leaders say. “NASA is now flying commercial cargo and crew missions to the International Space Station, and soon we will send more people and science to space on new suborbital flights,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a release. “Our partnership with the FAA will support the growth of American commercial aerospace capabilities that will benefit NASA, the nation, and the entire world.”
Under terms of the MOU, the FAA and NASA will build a stable launch and reentry framework for the U.S. space industry that is transparent, and avoids conflicting requirements and multiple sets of standards. The two agencies said they will also advance a point-to-point commercial suborbital pilot program with designated spaceports and airspace designs among other elements to support this revolutionary form of long-distance air transportation.
In addition, the MOU will aid the FAA and NASA in advancing public safety, facilitate new space technologies and areas for research opportunities, and share medical data on the effects of spaceflight among occupants of space vehicles and space habitats.
The deal follows other existing collaborations between the FAA and NASA, including the Flight Opportunities Program that helped develop a framework for flying researchers from industry and academia on commercial suborbital flights and the NASA Commercial Crew Program (CCP) Suborbital Crew (SubC) efforts to extend suborbital space transportation capabilities for NASA astronauts and other NASA personnel.
We're bolstering our partnership with @FAANews to foster a new era in commercial space development. Together we will support commercial space launch and encourage new innovations. More payloads and people will go to space than ever before! https://t.co/7FEjHZlewm pic.twitter.com/UhU0XMwK2p— NASA (@NASA) January 8, 2021
Today, the FAA and @NASA announced a memorandum of understanding to support commercial space activities related to the transport of government and non-government passengers, cargo and payloads for orbital and sub-orbital missions. Learn more at https://t.co/PNs1ol0T5F. #FAASpace pic.twitter.com/clMnYtItH4— The FAA ?? (@FAANews) January 8, 2021