The Federal Aviation Administration tends to overestimate U.S. commercial launches in its projections and thus its own staffing needs, according to a new government report.
“The FAA’s budget requests for its commercial space launch activities generally have been based on the number of projected launches,” said the report, circulated Sept. 21 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. “However, in recent years, the actual number of launches has been much lower than the projections.”
U.S. companies have conducted fewer orbital launches during the past 10 years than companies in Europe or Russia, the GAO report said. But it noted a big uptick in U.S. commercial orbital launches last year, with 11 compared with six in Europe and four in Russia.
The GAO report on the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation was requested by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
The report showed “an absence of important additional workload metrics for Congress to use to evaluate changes to the FAA’s needs and the need to update the risk methodology that informs launch indemnification,” the Texas Republican said.
Smith, who is closely identified with the Texas aerospace interests of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, has suggested favoritism in the FAA’s handling of a probe into the June 28 explosion of a rocket launched by Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX.
The GAO findings show the need to complete passage of the 2015 SPACE Act, to continue NASA’s transition to commercial launches “while introducing additional accountability and transparency measures,” Smith said.
The SPACE Act was passed by the House in May and awaits review by the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. It includes a provision to maintain the space program’s current oversight set-up — albeit with tweaked standards — to allow the commercial sector to continue to evolve before considering more sweeping regulatory changes.
“Most commercial space launch company representatives told GAO that they favor extending the regulatory moratorium beyond September 2015 to allow the industry more time to develop,” the GAO said.
It noted legislation has been introduced to do so.
“The committee will continue to work with the FAA to ensure it has the resources it needs to ensure a healthy and safe domestic commercial space sector,” Smith said. “An important step in this direction is the passage of H.R. 2262, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act of 2015, or SPACE Act.”