12 March 1999
- General (Good)
New Acronyms Herald Coming Era of Popular Space Travel
FAA Breaking the Path
by Patrick Collins
SATMS? ISFO? STC? No idea what they mean? Are you behind the times - or what?

In a literally path-breaking document "Commercial Space Transportation CONCEPT OF OPERATIONS in the National Airspace System in 2005" the US Government's Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation, Patricia G. Smith of the Federal Aviation Administration, lays out a vision of an integrated Space and Air Traffic Management System (SATMS) in which space travel will be seamlessly integrated with the world's aviation activities throughout the world.

Of course, major institutional and regulatory innovation is required to achieve this vision - but instead of listing all the difficulties and dragging their heels as bureaucracies are famous for, Ms Smith's office, AST, is tackling the subject with gusto, spinning out draft documents on key issues - notably the SATMS and a draft of a licensing procedure for reusable space vehicles.
Often criticised along with other government bureaucracies for being, er, bureaucratic(!), the FAA is showing signs of a genuine wish to see a vigorous private sector space industry - of which the "crown jewels" is going to be the tourist business, of course.

Apart from the documents AST has produced, and the workshops and meetings that have been held in Washington D.C. to encourage an exchange of views on these matters, Ms Smith has also made very positive speeches laying out her department's views on the way forward. These include a breakfast speech at the Space Transportation Association in Washington D.C. on December 1, 1998 (published in STA's SpaceTrans newsletter, Vol 8, No 6) and a speech at the roll-out of the atmospheric test vehicle (ATV) of the "Roton" piloted reusable launch vehicle at Rotary Rocket Company's Mojave site.

Let's hope that the higher levels of the FAA provide the AST with the increased resources that are going to be needed to get passenger travel to, from and through space under way as soon as possible.

Incidentally, ISFO stands for "International Space Flight Organisation", the name proposed by AST for a new body to play the role for space travel that is played in aviation by ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organisation - which coordinates the different national aviation authorities to achieve the numerous detailed agreements on which international aviation depends.

And STC is "Space Transition Corridor", a region of space/airspace that will be temporarily reserved for a space vehicle traveling between space and Earth. This is a key idea, recognising that it will not be practical for space vehicles to carry sufficient spare propellants to be able to manoeuvre to avoid aircraft - and so aircraft will have to be routed to keep out of their way. Aviation authorities might have resisted giving priority in this way to space vehicles - which, in economic terms, are still of minimal importance compared to aviation. However, in the USA at least, they've got straight down to the key issue, and conceptualised (and named) this highly realistic solution to the problem. Let's hope other countries quickly agree with this approach.

Note: The FAA's work to date does not yet specifically address space tourism; however, the licensing of piloted launch vehicles such as Roton will be a major step on the way. The FAA's good working relationship with Rotary Rocket Inc is largely a result of Rotary's embracing "aviation philosophy" (for a description, see the first section of this paper on VTOL rocket pilot procedures. Aircraft are as safe as they are because they are Piloted, Savable (ie they're designed for Continuous Intact Abort), and Incrementally Tested (ie multiple test-flights are used to achieve milestones step-by-step). This contrasts sharply with rockets used to launch satellites today, which are highly risky, being unpiloted, generally not savable if anything goes wrong, and which must achieve orbit on their first flight.

Developing regulations for passenger-carrying to, from and through space will a major additional task for the FAA. But the AST's business-like and progressive approach so far is very encouraging.
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Patrick Collins 12 March 1999
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