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FAA vs. Mojave Spaceport

Posted by: IOSde - Fri Dec 07, 2007 10:28 pm
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FAA vs. Mojave Spaceport 
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Post FAA vs. Mojave Spaceport   Posted on: Fri Dec 07, 2007 10:28 pm
This hit the local news this week and I thought I would share it.



Mojave Air and Space Port in danger of losing designation
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press on Thursday, December 6, 2007.
By ALLISON GATLIN
Valley Press Staff Writer

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
MOJAVE - The nation's first inland spaceport could lose that designation by the end of the year.
The Federal Aviation Administration informed officials at the Mojave Air and Space Port of its intention to suspend or revoke the space launch site operator's license Dec. 31.

"I have no reason to be optimistic we're going to keep our spaceport license," said General Manager Stu Witt, reporting on the issue to the East Kern Airport District board of directors Tuesday. The district governs the Mojave Air and Space Port.

At issue are questions by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation regarding the facility's plans for safely storing and handling the energetic chemicals used by rocket companies.

Two explosive accidents at the airport this summer, one fatal, have increased regulatory scrutiny on the facility.

Three Scaled Composites employees were killed and three more injured in a July 26 blast during what is described as a routine test of the nitrous oxide components of the rocket propulsion system for SpaceShipTwo, a suborbital spacecraft under development by Scaled for space tourism company Virgin Galactic.

An explosion and subsequent fire in an explosive materials storage area June 3 did not cause any injuries.

Since that time, the airport and its procedures have been studied by multiple outside agencies, as well as in investigations by the airport itself and the tenants involved.

The multiple investigations have resulted in new safety rules and procedures.

The licensing problems are more bureaucratic than substantive, Witt said, which makes the conflict all the more frustrating.

Witt said the FAA has asked airport officials to dream up possible launch vehicle scenarios, imagining various types and amounts of propellants and devising safety plans for dealing with those chemicals.

"I'm not in the business of dealing in stories; I deal in fact," he said.

The airport does have safety and storage plans in effect for those propellents and other energetic materials in use at the site.

The facility's 2006 safety inspection found no compliance issues, Witt said. However, the safety inspection this year resulted in a notice that the facility had 90 days to come into compliance but failed to state what the problems were, he said.

The airport has submitted the quantities, types, locations, safety zones and handling and preparation areas for all energetic materials on site, following the most recent standards set by the National Fire Protection Association.

The government and the airport agreed to use the association's safety standards several years ago, Witt said.

"We're working with the Space Port to resolve certain licensing issues, and we're optimistic that we can resolve all the issues by the end of the year," said Ian Gregor, communications manager for the FAA's Western-Pacific Region, in an e-mail response to written questions regarding the conflict.

"I can't go into further detail because it would be inappropriate to discuss private negotiations in public," he wrote.

The Mojave Air and Space Port, long-time home to civilian flight testing, became the first inland facility in the nation to receive a space launch operator's license in June 2004.

The licensing came about just in time for the inaugural space flight of SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded manned space program.

The launch site operator license, commonly referred to as a spaceport license, allows the airport to play host to horizontal launches of suborbital vehicles, as well as associated activities such as ground test firings of rocket engines and launch vehicle manufacturing.

The license allows for two kinds of launches.

The first is an air launch, in which the rocket vehicle is carried aloft by an airplane, then released at altitude where the rocket motor is ignited to carry the vehicle to its suborbital destination, the method employed by Scaled Composites for SpaceShipOne.

The second is a vehicle that would launch from a standard runway using a rocket engine.

"We're trying to be an enabler for all the people in the reusable space launch business," Witt said at the time the license was granted. "Before, people had a choice of which coast and which sea range to launch over. Now they can launch over land."

Although the Mojave Air and Space Port is home to a number of businesses developing space launch vehicles, "We have no active tenant that is engaged in reusable vehicle launch" at this time, Witt said.

The only launch operations to have utilized the spaceport license were the three flights of SpaceShipOne in 2004.

"Having (a spaceport license) is a great shingle to have outside hanging on the wall, because it speaks volumes about what we've done and where we're headed," Witt said.

Airport District Director Dick Rutan noted that the spaceport licensing issue is only going to grow for the FAA, with other spaceports planned around the nation.

Since Mojave received its license in 2004, a former nuclear bomber base in Oklahoma also has been licensed to play host to space launches by the FAA.

Rutan suggested teaming with other spaceports in dealing with regulatory issues.

"Everybody has a dog in this hunt. Maybe we could get a bigger dog," he said.

Rutan noted the importance of having a spaceport license in hand, even with no space launch operations currently planned, in order to attract the businesses that will eventually want its use.

Witt expressed frustration at the bureaucratic nature of the current conflict.

"We have gained a ton of knowledge that I think the federal regulators should be focused on that they're not," he said. "We're trying to lead; we're trying to provide a service for this fledgling industry."


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Post    Posted on: Sat Dec 08, 2007 1:41 pm
Just sad imo. When you have rules in place, everybody wants to deregulate and when you have no rules in place, government wants rules. How hard can it be to make rules that work in everyones best interest?


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Post    Posted on: Sat Dec 08, 2007 9:05 pm
I think management, or the lack there of, is the biggest problem here. What company goes into testing and not know what fuels they are going to use before the test?


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Post    Posted on: Sun Dec 09, 2007 1:50 am
So what does this mean for the companies that are testing rockets or other space subsystems? Will they have to discontinue testing?

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Post    Posted on: Sun Dec 09, 2007 8:33 pm
If they loose the license, it just means that programs like SpaceShip Two will have to go somewhere else to do their launch test. Static testing on the ground should not be affected. At least that is my understanding at this time.


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Post    Posted on: Tue Dec 11, 2007 6:11 pm
IOSde wrote:
If they loose the license, it just means that programs like SpaceShip Two will have to go somewhere else to do their launch test. Static testing on the ground should not be affected. At least that is my understanding at this time.

Isn't Virgin Galactic going to use some spaceport in New Mexico to launch their tourism flight anyway? That's what it says on their website. But losing the license in Mojave would be not be good.

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Post    Posted on: Tue Dec 11, 2007 9:23 pm
They have two explosions not related to any flights, so take away their license for flights, but let them carry on doing what they are already doing? That makes perfect beurocratic sense!

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Post    Posted on: Wed Dec 12, 2007 4:20 am
It sure does! Just like these two actual cases that I am familiar with.

Two sight seeing aircraft collide over the Grand Canyon, so the FAA forbids flights below the canyon rim. The tour companies complain it kills their business. so the FAA only prohibits private aircraft. So the upshot is that only planes like the ones that caused the accident are still allowed to fly over the canyon while other planes that didn't cause the accident are prohibited.

A private plane and an airliner collide over San Diego, so the FAA makes the voluntary TRSA (Terminal Radar Service Area) mandatory. But the private plane (and of course the airliner) were BOTH under positive radar control at the time of the accident. So the upshot is that ALL planes now have to fly under the same rules that caused the accident, not just some planes as was the case before.


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Post    Posted on: Wed Dec 12, 2007 10:30 am
I think its the usual case of having to be seen to have done something, whether the action taking will cure the problem is always seconday to a government body it is always more important that they can say they tried to stop an accident happening.

The 2 shuttle crashes are a typical example where everyone ran around like headless chickens to make sure that they were not responsible for another disaster (in both instances) but I sometimes think that NASA's management still think and operate in the same way as they always did. This will hopefully not result in another downed shuttle but if they make it to the end of the program without losing one I think they will have dodged a bullet.

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Post    Posted on: Wed Dec 12, 2007 9:59 pm
Rocket Scientist wrote:
Isn't Virgin Galactic going to use some spaceport in New Mexico to launch their tourism flight anyway? That's what it says on their website. But losing the license in Mojave would be not be good.


Originally, they announced that flight systems testing will be here at Mojave, but the "passenger" flights would be out of NM. I'm sure they will be looking at moving all flight testing somewhere else, plan B.

Either way, Mojave stands to loose a lot of business if the license is lost. Certain people at the FAA need to understand that, as sad as it is, this is the nature of the industry. When I was with the DOD we knew this to be true and used the learning curve to correct our mistakes, not kill the project.


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Post    Posted on: Sat Dec 22, 2007 7:33 pm
Just in time!


Mojave Air, Space Port gets reprieve

FAA amendments keep operating license valid
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press
Saturday, December 22, 2007.
By ALLISON GATLIN
Valley Press Staff Writer



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
MOJAVE - The Mojave Air and Space Port received an amendment to its spaceport license from the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday, averting a possible loss of the license.
"This came as a pleasant surprise," General Manager Stu Witt told the East Kern Airport District directors during a special meeting Thursday. The district governs the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Airport officials still need to analyze the document to determine the full effect on operations at the nation's first inland spaceport.

"Some of the terms and conditions have far-reaching operational implications and require mathematical analysis," Witt said in an e-mail to reporters. "We are pleased to have something to review which is in the form of a license provision."

Copies of the amendment have been distributed to the airport's tenants for their review and comments.

"Absolutely, it's good news," he said.

The FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation informed airport officials in November of its intention to suspend or revoke the space launch site operator's license Dec. 31.

At issue were questions regarding the facility's plans for safely storing and handling the energetic chemicals used by rocket companies.

Two explosive accidents at the airport this summer, one fatal, increased regulatory scrutiny on the Mojave facility.

Since that time, the airport and its procedures have been studied by multiple outside agencies, as well as in investigations by the airport itself and the tenants involved.

The multiple investigations have resulted in new safety rules and procedures.

Airport officials have spent the last month working with the FAA to resolve their issues, efforts that resulted in the four-page amendment that arrived Thursday morning.

The license is effective through June 2009, its original five-year term. That may be extended another five years, Witt said.

Director Dick Rutan said he was surprised at the amount of feedback he received once news of the possible license suspension was made public earlier this month.

As the first inland spaceport in the nation and the only one to play host to private, manned spaceflights, Mojave Air and Space Port has been in the vanguard of the emerging commercial "New Space" industry.

"We're the ones doing it for everyone else," Rutan said. "It's so important, just for the perception, that we maintain the viability of our spaceport license."

Given its standing in the industry, anything that happens at Mojave makes news around the world, from mainstream media outlets to the variety of space-related blogs, Witt said.

"There is a thirst for this industry, and it's the sizzle," he said.

Despite moments of frustration, "the exercise over the last 60 days has not been bad," Witt said, in that it aids in developing the regulatory processes.

"We are doing just as much in this effort of licensing and operation in our culture of firsts as the operators are doing the work of firsts, because we're plowing ahead on how to set standards, how to craft regulations, how to monitor," he said.

Previously, the only facilities engaged in these sorts of space-launch activities were military installations, which resulted in weapons-related standards that are not entirely applicable to Mojave's operations.

"Those standards are being developed right here, and they're being put into play right here and other people are watching this," Witt said.

"It's a process. It's not a bad process, it's a process," he said.

The Mojave Air and Space Port, longtime home to civilian flight testing, became the first inland facility in the nation to receive a space launch operator's license in June 2004.

The licensing came about just in time for the inaugural space flight of SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded manned space program.

The launch site operator license, commonly referred to as a spaceport license, allows the airport to play host to horizontal launches of suborbital vehicles, as well as associated activities such as ground test firings of rocket engines and launch vehicle manufacturing.

The license allows for two kinds of launches.

The first is an air launch, in which the rocket vehicle is carried aloft by an airplane, then released at altitude, where the rocket motor is ignited to carry the vehicle to its suborbital destination, the method employed by Scaled Composites for SpaceShipOne.

The second is a vehicle that would launch from a standard runway using a rocket engine.


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Post    Posted on: Sat Dec 22, 2007 9:35 pm
Great find!

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