Space transportation policy review underway

Nearly a year after the release of an overall national space policy, the Obama Administration is starting a review of "sectoral" policies, starting with the national space transportation policy. In his remarks opening the meeting of the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) in Washington yesterday, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation George Nield stated that the first interagency policy committee meeting regarding updating the policy took place on Tuesday. The policy was last updated by the George W. Bush Administration in December 2004 in a document officially designated NSPD-40. "It's been several years since that was put out, and things have changed, so we want to look through what we have and see if the existing environment warrants some modifications to the policy," Nield said. In a presentation later in the meeting, representatives of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Security Council, who are jointly running the policy review, provided some more details. The review of the policy is just getting started, they noted, with a target of completing the review in four to five months, although they cautioned that timeline is subject to delays. "Issues come up, there are challenges that you have to work through," Damon Wells of OSTP said. That work would be followed later by reviews of other sectorial policies covering commercial remote sensing and positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT). Because the review is in its earliest stages, officials said they weren't sure yet if the review would result in just tweaks to the 2004 policy or a wholesale rewriting. "It's useful to look at that document for tone and for the level of detail," Wells said, but added it was too soon to say what level of changes would be made to the policy. "We've got to go through the conversation first." One thing the administration is doing upfront is to solicit input from industry. As part of the interagency review, the FAA asked COMSTAC to provide a 10-page paper later this month; they are also accepting two-page addenda from companies that want to address specific topics. Some of the items that COMSTAC considered in a working group meeting Tuesday that may work their way into that final paper include support for NASA's commercial crew development effort and the FAA licensing of launches of missions carried out under that program, adding a section of the policy to specifically address suborbital spaceflight activities, and support for technology development and improvement of ground systems, range infrastructure, and in-space propulsion technologies.

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