The National Space Council met for the second time on Wednesday after the Trump Administration reinstated it last March. The council’s leader is Vice President Mike Pence, who formally recommended that the Department of Transportation revamp the process of acquiring launch licenses by March 2019.
Pence said that the current licensing system, managed by the Federal Aviation Administration, is “convoluted” and constrains businesses that want to launch satellites into lower Earth orbit. His recommended solution to this is simple: Make rocket licenses like diver’s licenses.
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“You know, the government has figured out how to honor driver’s licenses across state lines,” said Pence during his keynote address. “There’s no reason we can’t do the same for rockets.”
The main issue Pence had with the FAA’s licensing processes is how stringent and detailed it is.
There are two different procedures for “reusable” rockets, like SpaceX’s Falcon 9, and “expendable” rockets that aren’t recovered after launch. Furthermore, there is a whole other list of paperwork required to lock down a launch site. Once a location is determined it cannot be changed, as otherwise the launch site licensing processes has to start all over again.
Pence’s recommendation would streamline this processes by allowing companies to change the launch site and turn it into more of a performance based system, than a list of boxes that need to be checked.
“The Department of Transportation would require a single license for all types of launch and reentry vehicle operations,” states a White House release. “And transform the launch and reentry regulatory process from one of prescriptive requirements to a performance-based licensing regime.”
While this might make it simpler for commercial space flight companies to carry out launches, quantity doesn’t always mean quality.
One of the major steps in the current licensing processes is the “Environmental Review.” This takes into account the launch’s environmental impacts and potential consequences.
While it’s unclear what Pence wants cut out of the licensing procedure, getting rid of something like this or other necessary safeguards could make the increase in rocket launches more trouble than they would be worth.