Hot off the Federal Register: SpaceShipTwo trudges through the FAA licensure process

SpaceShipTwo has been going through a rigorous, sometimes difficult, flight testing process. While this somewhat public testing regime has been going on, the SpaceShipTwo family of vehicles have been trudging through the FAA launch licensure process. On Monday, SpaceShipTwo reached an important milestone in this journey, the FAA released a draft Environmental Assessment for the Launch and Reentry of SpaceShipTwo Reusable Suborbital Rockets at the Mojave Air and Space Port and has opened a window for request for comment on the plan.

An environmental assessment is required when the FAA takes a “major action.” Issuing experimental permits or launch licenses for suborbital spaceflight is considered a major action, therefore federal law requires that the FAA perform an environmental assessment. The EA examines the potential effects on plants, animals, air quality, and human health safety and culture in the area flights of SpaceShipTwo would have on the Kern County area.

NEPA, the federal law directing the creation of the EA, requires that at least one alternative to issuing the experimental permit be proposed. In this case, a “no action” alterative was examined. The EA points out that the minimal environmental effects would not occur, while sacrificing the positive socioeconomic impacts the proposed test flight program (up to 30 flights annually) would have on the area. In fact, the EA points out that “[w]ithout

obtaining the necessary experimental permits or launch licenses from the FAA, SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo operations would potentially need to relocate to a new site, possibly resulting in an adverse impact to socioeconomics due to a loss of existing jobs at the Mojave Air and Space Port.” Potential relocation sites might include New Mexico’s Spaceport America, however the EA is supportive of issuing experimental permits and/or launch licenses for SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo operations in Mojave.

One potentially interesting line from this report states the following: “Multiple companies propose to operate SpaceShipTwo reusable suborbital rockets and WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft at the Mojave Air and Space Port….” Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic both come to mind as operating companies, and are specifically mentioned in the EA, itself. Might this be an indication that TSC/Virgin/Scaled may supply the SpaceShipTwo platform to other operators in the future? Imagine an American Airlines-operated SpaceShipTwo, or a Southwest SpaceShipTwo! Would you take a quick jaunt to space on one?

The FAA invites interested parties to “submit comments on environmental issues and concerns” by April 13.

Links to the Federal Register Entry and the EA itself are below. The environmental assessment is actually an interesting read from a technical prospective as well because it sheds light on the proposed flight testing plan for SpaceShipTwo over the coming months.

Federal Register Entry                        Draft EA re:SpaceShipTwo

Happy creating!

3 thoughts on “Hot off the Federal Register: SpaceShipTwo trudges through the FAA licensure process

  1. I don’t know what they mean by multiple companies. I know that Sierra Nevada plans to do some drop tests using the WhiteKnightTwo this summer.

    I’m not sure they’ve been trudging through the FAA approval process. Scaled hasn’t been ready for powered flights until this year. The company built a large space plane and underestimated what it would take to develop a hybrid rocket to power it.

  2. Doug,

    Thanks for the comments! I love Parabolic Arc! It slipped my mind that Sierra Nevada was planning to do drop tests using WhiteKnightTwo. It’ll be interesting to see who else takes advantage of that unique aircraft in the future.

  3. Hi, Mr Doug Messier –

    just for your information, after all it’s your “business”, and you do it very well, there’s some blogs, since the 15/16 of this month, specialized in the spaceship industries ( Parabolic Arc for example), which seem coherents in the diffusion of these news : there’s a big buzz in Paris about a Sci-Fi novel, forthcoming this september, written by a well-known french author (Maurice Dantec), where Sir Richard Branson himself but also Elon Musk and some other great figures of the private space business, play a prominent role as main characters of the fiction. A “novel-trailer” was made and it is on You Tube. The name of the publishing house/internet platform is RING, at
    I just came back from a “surf” about it all, and, by the Saint Saturn V, it’s true !
    Sir Richard Branson in not only the future of space science travel, but the future of space-science fiction !
    Best regards

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