FAA cuts the red tape for commercial rocket launches (and landings, too)

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule takes off atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Jan. 19, 2020. On Oct. 14, the FAA announced the SLR2, a new rule opening up restrictions around commercial launch and reentry procedures.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule takes off atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Jan. 19, 2020. On Oct. 14, the FAA announced the SLR2, a new rule opening up restrictions around commercial launch and reentry procedures. (Image credit: NASA/Tony Gray)

Commercial space is about to become more accessible than ever before. 

Today (Oct. 15), the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) announced that it has published a new launch and re-entry rule known as the Streamlined Launch and Re-entry Licensing Regulation-2 (SLR2). The new rule aims to increase launch and reentry access for commercial space companies while maintaining safety. 

"We've seen the first launch of American astronauts into orbit aboard an American-built rocket since the end of the space shuttle program ... to the International Space Station," United States Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, said in a news conference today, referring to SpaceX's two-month Demo-2 mission, which lifted off on May 30. 

"Our country is headed towards a record year in commercial space, and our goal in finalizing this new regulation is to keep it that way," Chao said.

"We're cutting the red tape that has held this industry to the launch pad for far too long," FAA assistant administrator for communications Brianna Manzelli said at the news conference.

Related: Trump's Space Policy Directive 2 could make life easier for SpaceX & others

This new rule is rolled out under the President's Space Policy Directive-2 (SPD-2), which was enacted in 2018. SPD-2 guides the Secretary of Transportation to create a new regulatory structure for launch and re-entry activities. The directive also advises the Secretary to consider allowing commercial operations to launch and re-enter Earth's atmosphere with just a single license (as opposed to having to get a new license for individual activities).

And with SLR2, the FAA has done just that. Now, only a single license is required "for all types of commercial space flight launch and re-entry operations," according to SLR2, which "increases flexibility for launch and re-entry vehicle operations." 

With SLR2, the FAA aims to streamline launch and re-entry procedures, so, "while it is laser-focused on public safety, it only regulates to the extent necessary," Wayne Monteith, the FAA's associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said during the news conference today. "The goal is to simplify the licensing process and a lot of novel operations, reduce costs and positioning both the industry and the FAA for the rapid increase in the number of launches that are coming, all without compromising safety."

One interesting component of this new regulation sort of gets rid of the old rules that stated that the license for a launch would "begin" or take effect upon arrival at the launch site — for example, the gate at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. 

Instead, now, "an individual company can, in essence, negotiate with us when they want the license to begin," Monteith said. "It reduces [the] burden on the individual stakeholder. And it certainly reduces [the] burden on government to monitor operations that have little to no impact on public safety."

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined Space.com in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.