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W Gaubatz, April 24 1996, "Comments on Certification Standards for New Reusable Launch Vehicles", FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Panel on Certification Standards for New Launch Vehicles.
Also downloadable from on certification standards for new reusable vehicles.shtml

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Comments on Certification Standards for New Reusable Launch Vehicles
Dr. William A Gaubatz

McDonnell Douglas appreciates the opportunity afforded by the Office of the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation to comment on the development of Certification Standards for New Reusable Launch Vehicles.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) on October 1, 1995. transferred the control of the Office Commercial Space Transportation (OCST) to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This office is now the FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation. This single action put in focus the importance of this mode of transportation in our future commercial aviation system.

The responsibilities of OCST from the beginning (1984) have been: to license commercial space launches to protect public health and safety; to safeguard property, national security and foreign policy interest; and to encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space launches by the private sector. These responsibilities derived from an era of space transportation dominated by expandable launch vehicles ( ELV), a market dominated by satellite launches, and launch sites dominated by coastal locations. Annual world-wide launches to space are less than 100 and return flights are much fewer.

The United States is and soon the world will be poised to enter a new era of transportation to and from and through space. It will be an era dominated by reusable launch vehicles ( RLV), a market dominated by passenger and cargo transportation, and a proliferation of launch sites (spaceports) located throughout the world, inland as well as at coastal sites. In the not to distant future space planes will be flying the space lanes connecting not only with earth-bound spaceports pairs. but also with earth and orbiting spaceport pairs in creating a new transportation infrastructure of spaceways. These spaceways will not only open the space frontier, but they will also revolutionize life here on earth. Connecting spaceports pairs will eliminate time as a major consideration for carrying out business or travel to any other part of the world. New economies will develop around earth and space spaceports complexes. Annual flights to, from and through space will be measured by the 1000s.

The responsibilities of the new Federal Aviation Administration OCST will be greatly broadened to nurture and govern the expansion of this new spaceways transportation infrastructure.

Issues that OCST must deal with will include:

  • Commercial space routing, Military space routing, Overflights
  • International spaceways assignments and control
  • Spacecraft design
  • Spacecraft certification
  • Commercial Space Operator requirement
  • Spacecraft traffic control system
  • Launch and landing requirements
  • Environmental issues
  • Spaceport operations

We are at the beginning, the ground floor, of this new commercial transportation effort and we must develop and nurture this system into one which is safe, reliable and, if it is to expand to become a part of our daily lives, it must provide a positive economic return to private industry and to the government.

Where might this new commercial transportation industry go with this mode of transportation. To begin with, it will enable the new low-earth orbit ( LEO) communication networks flourish and open LEO to new private ventures. It will enable more science and exploration to be carried out in space -- both in terms of cost and frequency. Rapid travel through space will result in transportation of precious cargo, i.e., donor transplant organs, time sensitive material, delivery of cargo, business travelers, and finally tourists.

We need a system that allows this mode of transportation to meet the needs of the private sector, i.e., spaceport facilities that are located inland and coastal and close to the metropolitan areas (the noise issue is something that we will have to work our way through), international agreements which support this mode (Bilateral Space Agreements), Landing Rights, Fifth Freedom Rights, etc.

What is the time frame for all this to happen? Today? tomorrow? it's "pretty darn quick." Industry is moving at a pace that requires some of the above issues or approaches to the isues to be resolved before the 21st century.

What do we need in place to allow all this to happen in the correct order and time sequence?

Today the design and technology requirements are being proven through the DC-XA, X-34 and X-33 research vehicles.

It is now important that the regulatory requirements be developed which will support the design and technology and operational requirements needed to preserve the public health and safety when these new systems begin their development flights and finally go into routine operation. Therefore, it is time we start looking at this mode of transportation the same way that we look at our present airline transportation system. While we must be very careful to put into place those regulations and processes that will assure public safety and convenience, we must also be very careful not to over regulate and possibly delay or kill a new system at "birth."

Developing regulations is not an easy task; in fact it is a real chore. The Federal Government has certain requirements that any regulation must process through: DOT has its own policies and procedures that must be followed; FAA also has their own policies and procedures to follow. In addition, the heritage and procedures from NASA and the military in operation of converted missiles and Shuttle craft will play a precedent-setting role. Finally, 0MB will review the recommended procedures from a cost and economic perspective. It is not very speedy, nor always amenable to the scientific process; empirical data based on experience will always play a major role in verification.

It is not too soon to start the development of the regulations stated above in support of this new mode of space transportation. Data needs to be collected and agreed-to processes need to be put into place to support the development of the new system. The following is a brief descriptive example of the process which will normally occur for design and certification regulations, and a recommendation for establishing an industry-led group to help develop the regulatory material.


Technical content of the regulation: This is done by the technical specialists. In developing these regulations, they must strive to develop performance-based requirements rather than design-specific requirements. Example, spacecraft flight control systems must be designed such that any single-system failure or multiple-failure will not jeopardize continued safe flight to landing. For example, our DC-X has the capability to use differential throttling of its main engines in the event of a hydraulic actuator failure to provide for directional control of the vehicle. This is similar to an example currently being evaluated for commercial transports to incorporate and certify propulsion flight controlled technology (new safety technology) in transport category aircraft. Questions are - what is the system purpose?; is single system, dual system necessary?; what are the performance-base certification requirements? This kind of regulation does not tell the engineer how to design, but tells him the performance the system must meet.

Getting agreement within the technical specialists is not always easy. For example, composite structural design requirements between Boeing and McDonnell Douglas are different, and both believe in and rely upon their requirements to achieve safe, cost-effective designs. But the performance based rules helps both achieve the design that meets the requirement.

In addition to developing the rule, advisory material must accompany the rule providing guidance on acceptable means of compliance, e.g.. what test procedures, analytical techniques. Engineers within the organization will be assigned as designated engineering representatives (DER). or designated manufacture inspector representatives (DMIR) to certify that these procedures are being followed. This guidance is provided in Advisory Circulars and it is an acceptable means of compliance but not the only means. The technical specialist does not talk in regulatory language; so now the professional rule writers must come and help put what the technical specialists want into the right legal words. The rule writers will develop the preamble, the final words for the regulation, economic analyses, and all of the other processes and procedures that must accompany the final rule.

Once this regulation is processed through the FAA system, the FAA Office of Rulemaking prepares the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) for publication in the Federal Register.

In the U.S., our regulatory process is open to the public and there will be a public comment period. Depending on the significance of the rule, the comment period can be three months or more.

Once the comment period is closed, the FAA must review the comments and disposition each.

The FAA will then publish the final rule with a disposition for the comments in the Federal Register.

One would think this is a straight forward process. Well, yes and no. It can take three to four years before the final rule is published.

If we have to consider all the regulations that need to be in place--spacecraft routing, design and certification, commercial space operator requirements, spacecraft traffic control, launch requirements and environmental issues--we need to get started today.

McDonnell Douglas proposes that industry takes the lead in helping to get this done in the time frame that is facing us. There has to be a commitment from industry to support this effort. No single group can accomplish this task; it will take a full court press by all of us to get this done.

McDonnell Douglas proposes that industry, under the auspices of a recognized group like the Aerospace Industry Association (AIA), form a "Commercial Space Regulatory Task Force" (CSRTF) for the purpose of developing the regulatory material necessary to facilitate the design, certification and operation of the spacecraft transportation system.

This CSRTF would have a Steering Committee and individual Working Groups developing the infrastructure and regulatory material. The Steering Committee would define the tasks, priorities, schedule, and oversight the Working Group results. The Steering Committee should consist of the right mix of individuals, expertise and interest, ranging from the vehicle to ground systems, to maintenance equipment and training.

The Working Groups should consist again of the right mix of technical experts to accomplish the assigned task. FAA, NASA, DOD, and DOT will be invited to participate in the Steering Committee and the Working Groups.

The Working Groups will be given specific tasks to accomplish, such as:

  • Review the existing FAA certification requirements for commercial transport category aircraft and develop spacecraft certification requirements.
  • Review the present air traffic control system and airways system. Develop a space air traffic control and spaceway system that is compatible with the existing system and integrates with the U.S. Space Command.
  • Review the FAA regulation FAR 121 which affects the present airline operator and develop the necessary regulation for a commercial space operator.
  • Review existing airport operating regulations and develop earth and space spaceport operating regulations.
  • DOT will be required to investigate the International Bilateral Agreements which affect the international flight of these spacecraft.

The end result of this effort is a recommendation to the FAA in the form of a "petition for rulemaking." This petition would be the draft NPRM, Advisory Circular including the preamble and economic analyses.

The FAA would then respond to the petition by publishing the petition in the Federal Register for public comment.

Considering the potential time involved in this process, it should get underway this year. More importantly, the NASA X-33 and X-34 programs are starting this year and should be used as a rich source for experience and empirical data gathering to supplement the process development. These NASA programs will also be "breaking the overland flight barrier" for rocket ships and FAA guidance, at a minimum, will be required to coordinate the test ranges and facilitate the public's understanding and acceptance of these tests.

We welcome comments from government and industry and have provided a sign-up sheet for those individuals and organizations to express their interest in participating.

W Gaubatz, April 24 1996, "Comments on Certification Standards for New Reusable Launch Vehicles", FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Panel on Certification Standards for New Launch Vehicles.
Also downloadable from on certification standards for new reusable vehicles.shtml

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