The FAA yesterday released a notice of availability of a draft environmental assessment for licensing LauncherOne’s launches. As described by the FAA,
The FAA is evaluating LauncherOne LLC’s (L1’s) proposal to launch the LauncherOne at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Kern County, California, for purposes of transporting small satellites into a variety of Low Earth Orbits. The launch system consists of the rocket (LauncherOne) and a carrier aircraft (Boeing 747). To operate LauncherOne at the Mojave Air and Space Port, L1 must obtain a launch license from the FAA. Issuing a license is considered a major Federal action subject to environmental review under NEPA[, the National Environmental Policy Act].
There are interesting points in this notice:
Orbital launches: The notice shows that the FAA is contemplating expanding the scope of the spaceport license for Mojave Air and Spaceport to include orbital launches.
Reusability: The FAA characterizes L1’s launch system as reusable.
Scope of license: Although the notice reads as if the space license would only cover the rocket and not the aircraft, one would expect, as with past launch systems consisting of a carrier aircraft and a rocket, the FAA’s launch license to cover both the flight of the 747 and the rocket on the days when L1 fires the rocket. If L1 flies the 747 without the rocket attached or even conducts captive carriage tests with the rocket attached, the activity would take place under the aviation regulations, not the space regulations. However, we may expect the FAA space license to apply to the flight of both the 747 and the rocket based on its approach to licensing Orbital Science’s (now Orbital ATK’s) launch system, which consisted of a Pegasus rocket and an L-1011 carrier aircraft, and Scaled Composites’ White Knights One and Two carrier aircraft and its SpaceShip rockets.
The draft environmental assessment itself may be found here, and comments are due February 13, 2017.