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SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic Push for FAA Improvement

Executives from leading U.S. space companies, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, addressed the Senate Subcommittee on Space and Science, emphasizing the need for improvements in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) regulatory and licensing processes. The surge in rocket launches, coupled with increased competition from China, has prompted concerns about the FAA’s ability to handle the growing demands of the commercial space industry.

Bill Gerstenmaier, SpaceX Vice President of Build and Flight Reliability, highlighted the urgency, stating that the FAA’s commercial space office requires double the current resources for licensing rocket launches. SpaceX, under contract with NASA, aims to use Starship to land American astronauts on the moon, emphasizing the strategic competition with China.

The executives argued that the FAA is at a breaking point, lacking the resources and flexibility to fulfill its regulatory obligations. While acknowledging the FAA’s role in ensuring safe space transportation, Gerstenmaier and others emphasized the need for increased funding and streamlined processes to keep pace with industry demand.

Phil Joyce, Blue Origin Senior Vice President of New Shepard, echoed the sentiment, stating that the FAA struggles to keep up with the industry’s pace and requires additional funding to handle the rising number of launches. Industry expert Caryn Schenewerk noted that recent changes in FAA regulations have not streamlined licensing reviews, proving more cumbersome and costly.

The executives unanimously urged senators to extend the “learning period” that limits FAA regulations for human spaceflight. While the commercial human spaceflight industry is relatively new, with only three companies currently carrying humans to space, witnesses argued against premature regulations based on limited data. Virgin Galactic astronaut Sirisha Bandla emphasized the need to avoid new regulations on flying people to space, highlighting the unique challenges and early stages of the commercial human spaceflight sector. The overall message was a call for more resources and efficiency to ensure the FAA can effectively regulate and support the rapidly evolving space industry.

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