Trump Administration’s Unified Agenda for Space Transportation Regulation

The Trump Administration has released its Unified Agenda, and it contains several upcoming space transportation rulemakings.  For a description of how to navigate the Unified Agenda, go here.

Neomi Rao, the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget, described the Administration’s regulatory goals in the Wall Street Journal:

Agencies are now expected to regulate only when explicitly authorized by law—and to follow the proper procedures. The same standards now apply to regulatory and deregulatory actions. If the government exercises its regulatory power, it should do so with fair notice and due process, and only upon a conclusion that the regulation is necessary and that the benefits of the regulation justify its costs.

Regulatory reform not only promotes individual liberty and a flourishing economy, it also supports constitutional democracy. Through OIRA’s regulatory review process, we ensure that agencies stay within the legal authority given by Congress. When the law provides discretion, we work with agencies to ensure that regulatory policy reflects presidential priorities. This executive direction makes the rule-making process democratic and accountable.

Notices of Proposed Rulemaking.  An orbital debris mitigation proposal describes the costs and benefits as around $30 million without actually identifying the mitigation measures proposed.  Since I worked on this one while I was at the FAA I will do no more than provide a link, and leave analysis and speculation as an exercise for the reader.

The FAA also proposes to clarify and streamline some regulations:

This action would revise part 413 to allow specified pre-flight operations prior to license approval, remove obsolete, non-functional, and in some cases duplicative, part 417 ground safety regulations, expand the term of a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) license (part 431) and reentry operator license (part 435) from two years to five years, and clarify the differences in the meaning of the term safety approval as referenced in parts 415 and 431.

I did not work on this project which leaves me free to note that when I originally skimmed this I thought the FAA planned to fix its part 414 safety approval regulations. Current regulations lead people to think that safety approvals may be granted more broadly than the Commercial Space Launch Act actually allows.  However, the referenced safety approvals appear to apply to licenses.  I was therefore incorrect.  The FAA calls this one deregulatory.

Another new, deregulatory proposal for risk to ships would align the FAA’s requirements in parts 417, 431, and 435, for protecting ships during launch or reentry with new practice at USAF ranges, offering operators another option for compliance. If a near real-time assessment demonstrated that the total mission risk was satisfied given the best available data on the conditions during flight launch could proceed.  It will be interesting to see if that translates into functionally dropping the risk threshold for ship hit.  Under current regulations an operator must satisfy total mission risk requirements for all three hazards AND the ship hit requirements.  If I am understanding this correctly, the FAA proposes to allow satisfaction of one requirement (total risk, which excludes ships) to remove the other (the ship hit requirement).  Perhaps “total mission risk” does not mean the risk assessed under 14 CFR 417.107(b)(1), which applies to the “total risk” of debris, toxic releases, and far field blast overpressure.  This will be interesting to read when it comes out.

The final new deregulatory proposal would update the FAA’s regulations to conform to the changes Congress made in 2015 to the Commercial Space Launch Act.  Presumably, this action would clarify that space flight participants must now enter into reciprocal waivers of claims with launch and reentry operators authorized by the FAA.   Also, it may make clear that many obligations under the FAA’s rules do not apply to government astronauts.

Final Rule.  Lastly, the Agenda projects release of a final rule.  In 2016 the FAA published “Updates to Rulemaking and Waiver Procedures and Expansion of the Equivalent Level of Safety Option.”  The Agenda states that the final rule should have come out in November of this year, so perhaps we may expect it soon.