Remarks by
Patricia Grace Smith

Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation
Federal Aviation Administration
United States Department of Transportation


Radisson at The Port
Cape Canaveral, Florida
March 6, 2000

Good Morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Sam Boyd, for that very warm and generous welcome. It is a pleasure to be here at the Conference on Quality in the Space and Defense Industries 2000. Thanks much to your program chairman, Les Lemay, for inviting me. For those of you not familiar with the role of the office of the FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation, we are the people responsible for licensing, regulating, and promoting the U.S. commercial space transportation industry, with safety as the top priority.

The origin of the office goes back to 1984, when a U.S. commercial launch industry was more an idea in the minds of some forward thinking individuals in government and industry than a reality. NASA was providing launch services for U.S. commercial payloads and many others in what we then called the "free world."

Only the European Space Agency’s Ariane rocket was being commercially marketed in competition with NASA’s space shuttles and the Russians, Chinese and others were not yet in the world marketplace with their vehicles.

Two events occurred that changed space forever: One, the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger, and the subsequent decision to prohibit commercial payloads on the shuttle, leaving the U.S. with severely limited launch capability; and, two, the fall of the Iron Curtain and dissolution of the Soviet Union, setting the stage for the highly competitive and growing world market in space launch.

The U.S. went from zero commercial launch capability in 1988 to cracking the one billion dollar mark in launch revenues in 1998. In that year, U.S. launch providers achieved a 42 percent share of the international commercial launch market, followed by 22 percent for Europe, 19 percent for Russia, 14 percent for China and three percent by Ukraine. We are looking at approximately 19 launches this year.

Excuse me for taking time with that background, but I find that even in space–oriented audiences, there are those for whom the commercial segment of the launch industry and FAA’s role in it are little known. Now let me turn to my subject for today’s talk "Assuring Safety and Quality in Commercial Space Launches."

Safety is the number one priority of my office and I am proud and relieved to say that our record is unblemished –– in 125 AST–licensed launches there have been no instances of injury or death or of significant damage to government or third–party property. Having said this, I am not suggesting a comfort level, for I am committed – as is my staff – to constant vigilance.

Quality, however, is a somewhat different, and more complicated, matter. There are some who would question –– indeed, have questioned –– the devotion to quality in an industry that has suffered three unrelated failures of commercial launch attempts in less than a year in the 1998–99 timeframe.

Two Delta 3s and an Athena 2 failed due to hardware or software flaws broadly attributed to quality controls. But from our perspective –– or at least our current perspective –– they failed safely. No one was injured or killed and no third party property was damaged. Where appropriate, the flight termination system functioned as it was designed to and the rocket and payload were destroyed before they could do harm.

Under the philosophy applied to expendable launch vehicles, or ELVs, mission safety was not equated with mission success. One of our primary concerns with all ElVs is the quality and reliability of the flight termination system, the mechanism designed to assure the destruction of the vehicle and payload if they show even a hint of going astray or otherwise presenting a safety threat. Under the current, long–practiced Air Force range safety rules, if a rocket veers off course, the flight safety officer activates the FTS system, and BOOM, pieces drop harmlessly into the sea with safety having been served.

But things are happening out there that require us to take a new look at how we define safety, and to get our vehicle reliability figures up, as well. I’m talking about the increased interest in putting people other than astronauts and cosmonauts into space. I’m talking about the movement to encourage a space tourism industry, a movement to explore beyond scientific exploration – a movement to utilize space for recreational and leisure time activities. Or at the very least, a movement to create vehicles that will be less costly since they will be designed to be used and used again and again.

And I’m talking about the numerous programs, both government and entrepreneurial, to develop reusable launch vehicles that will fly to, through and from space, overflying populated areas and eventually carrying crews and passengers.

This is not necessarily in the distant future, but could be upon us quickly. It has only been a few weeks since we learned of what may be a harbinger of the future: the efforts by a U.S. businessman and investors to turn the Russian Mir space station into a multipurpose domain, including perhaps the world’s most expensive resort destination and/or research laboratory.

Granted, this initially would appear to be a Russian problem, using Russian Soyuz space vehicles to bring people and supplies to and from the refurbished orbiting habitat. It would certainly bring many questions to the forefront for us, including just how much risk are individuals willing to take, how much risk is the collective "we" prepared to allow individuals to take in the pursuit of adventure, and how much regulation are we going to place on future U.S. purveyors of such adventure.

The flight termination approach to safety is simply not acceptable with passenger, or even crew-carrying vehicles. For certain, it would dampen demand for tickets. Realistically, we need to strive for the level of safety, reliability, and mission success for this new generation of space vehicles that we do for commercial aircraft.

Not the 95%+ success rate of our most reliable current commercial launch vehicles, but the 99.9%+ safety record of our commercial airplanes.

How do we achieve this? Today’s aircraft are marvels of reliability and safety, but every time a new model is developed, even though the technology is mature and well–understood, they are put through rigorous, expensive and time-consuming qualification and certification flights.

Extending the same kind of requirements to commercial space transportation vehicles at this stage in the development and maturity of the market is probably not economically feasible. What kind of a program is possible under these cost constraints that will still give us the level of confidence to put such vehicles into revenue service? Perhaps this is a question that the American Society for Quality could help us to answer.

Turning to another development affecting AST’s role in safety quality in space transportation, the long awaited report of the Interagency Working Group (IWG) on the Future Management and Use of the U.S. Space Launch Bases and Ranges is now out. You may view it on our Internet site, http://ast.faa.gov.

The study, which was produced under the joint direction of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Security Council, examines the current roles and responsibilities of federal government agencies and the U.S. commercial space sector as we look together at the future.

It identifies the major policy and management issues resulting from the shift in launch base use from its historic government-dominated basis toward more commercial, market-driven activities. Rather than a single, government-decreed solution, the report presents alternatives that describe several possible paths along which U.S. space launch capability could develop over the next one to two decades, and offers recommendations for appropriate near-term steps in the evolution of these bases and ranges.

Virtually all of the scenarios presented in the report encourage a serious look at a shared relationship between the FAA and the Air Force as relates to meeting commercial launch safety requirements now and in the future.

As a full participant in the IWG and a key player in the changing profile of U.S. space launch activity for the past decade, my office had anticipated changes of this nature and had begun to prepare for them.

One significant step underway is the negotiation of an umbrella partnership Memorandum of Agreement between the FAA and the Air Force, which will define areas of increased cooperation and shared responsibility.

The report also raises the issue of the need for increased FAA resources for commercial space in order to meet these new responsibilities. We had also anticipated this need and had defined and documented what would be required. I am working to secure support for President Clinton’s budget requesting that our current resources be doubled, allowing me to hire additional staff to strengthen our safety workforce.

We must make it clear that the continued growth and competitiveness of the domestic commercial space launch industry is essential to the economic and national security interests of our nation, and that an investment in the management and support of the space launch infrastructure is essential to meeting this outcome.

An example of the kind of increased responsibility foreseen for the FAA is evident in a section of the report entitled "Roles, Resources and Requirements for Public Safety." It recounts that Air Force safety personnel at the ranges are "increasingly burdened by oversight responsibilities for commercial launches from federal ranges" and notes that under current law, the FAA is responsible for oversight of FAA–licensed launches from federal and non-federal launch sites.

It goes on to say "The FAA will need to provide sufficient trained safety personnel for oversight of licensed commercial activities at the federal ranges to relieve the growing burden on Air Force safety personnel and to build the required safety workforce to oversee the increasing commercial activities at non-federal launch sites,"

We anticipated the need for a larger role in safety with four FAA-licensed launch sites, a growing number of states interested in their own launch site, and now launch platforms like Sea Launch, our safety role has and will increase. Last year, we undertook an FAA Safety Inspector Training Program with the support and assistance of Air Force safety personnel and NASA range safety personnel. All of my current safety personnel have completed the classroom portion of the program and on–the–job training in the field is continuing.

Other ideas we have suggested to improve training and sharing of knowledge in the interest of securing and ensuring the unparalleled safety record to date include:

  • Rotation of Air Force Range flight safety personnel through the FAA and of FAA personnel through the Range;
  • Cross training of Air Force and FAA flight safety personnel;
  • A combined/shared presence of Air Force and FAA safety personnel throughout the process of preparing and launching a commercial launch vehicle, and;
  • Coordination and cooperation stimulated by access to Air Force expertise for use during FAA’s evaluation of commercial launches from non-federal launch sites in order that common practices are in place regardless of whether it’s a federal or non-federal launch site.

For example, we have been working with the Air Force for over a year on the development of common safety standards for federal and non-federal launch sites and ranges. Our benchmark is the regulatory program overseen by the Air Force for decades which will allow us to avoid duplication of effort.

Working with EWR 127–1, the Air Force wing-level safety standard used to implement launch safety at the Air Force Ranges, the FAA is in the process of drafting launch safety requirements for launch from non-federal launch sites. Since the two standards serve many of the same purposes, it makes sense to create one set of national standards to cover all U.S. space launches.

The national standards are being developed through the FAA rulemaking process and will become part of FAA’s regulations. Where appropriate, the Air Force will reference these national standards for implementation at the Air Force launch ranges. This effort has been agreed to by the Air Force and the FAA. The Commander of the Air Force Space Command has directed Air Force range safety participation. The FAA and the Air Force have identified the following benefits from this effort.

  1. Provides safety requirements directly derived from public law;
  2. Establishes a single set of national requirements for the U.S. launch industry;
  3. Maintains the level of safety required by the FAA to meet its safety responsibilities and by insurance companies for determining premiums;
  4. Subjects the standards to cost/benefit analyses performed by the FAA;
  5. Creates the potential for cost savings;
  6. Establishes uniform administrative processes for both industry and government;
  7. Public review and participation by industry is ensured through the rulemaking process;
  8. Emphasizes performance-based standards with tailorable detailed requirements, and finally;
  9. Preserves the best of Air Force corporate knowledge and lessons learned.

We are taking a phased approach to development of national launch safety standards. The first phase, which is currently underway, focuses on flight safety requirements for expendable launch vehicles to be published later this year by the FAA. The second phase will concentrate on ground safety issues at a launch site. Additional phases will address the complete replacement of EWR 127–1 and the development of local supplements to the national standards that may be needed at specific launch ranges.

Yet another example of ways we are looking to the future safety of space launch, and to aviation activities as well, is our continued work on the Space and Air Traffic Management System, or SATMS.

Some of you may know that we developed a commercial space transportation Concept of Operations, or ConOps, designed to illustrate commercial space transportation operations in the National Airspace System or NAS from the commercial launch service provider’s perspective.

This ConOps is available on our Internet site at http://ast.faa.gov. I would invite you to take a look at it and give us your comments.

In closing, I would like to commend the Aviation/Space and Defense Division of the American Society for Quality and the supporting organizations for sponsoring this conference and shining a spotlight on the critical quality issues in the space and defense industries. For it will be these very issues that will allow our U.S. industry to increase its reliability and to continue to take market share away from its competitors.

Speaking from my perspective focusing on safety and quality in commercial space launches, quality must be there from the very beginning and at every step, from conceiving of a launch (or reentry) vehicle to safely and successfully completing a launch mission. It cannot be an afterthought or imposed at some arbitrary point in the process.

But if we all, at every step, strive for the utmost in quality, we maximize the prospect for safe and successful outcomes. I know that is what we do at the FAA, and I know that’s what this conference is about.

Thank you.