US FAA opens Houston space safety office to oversee burgeoning space activity

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has opened a safety field office in Houston to increase its oversight of commercial space operations in Texas and New Mexico.

From this location, FAA inspectors will be able to more effectively and efficiently monitor the ongoing testing programs and commercial space tourism operations of SpaceX and Blue Origin in Texas and Virgin Galactic in New Mexico, along with others in the region.

Keeping the public safe as the pace of commercial space operations increases requires the FAA to adapt, be agile, and remain vigilant,” said Wayne Monteith, the FAA’s associate administrator of commercial space transportation. “The Houston field office will help us achieve these important goals.”

This is the latest action the FAA is taking to keep pace with the increasing frequency of commercial space launch and reentry activities. The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation also is increasing its safety inspection staff, reorganized the office to improve efficiency and accountability, and established an Office of Spaceports.

The FAA also streamlined and modernized its commercial space launch and reentry licensing regulations to allow the agency to spend more time on safety oversight and less on paperwork.

Last month, the FAA activated the Space Data Integrator capability that can track a space launch or reentry vehicle in near-real time as it travels through the National Airspace System. This new capability increases safety for all airspace users and assists the FAA in efficiently managing air traffic during space operations.  

In 2020, the FAA licensed 41 commercial space launches and reentries, and safely managed 45 commercial, civil, and Department of Defense space operations into the National Airspace System.  For 2021, those numbers could exceed 60 and 70, respectively.

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