FAA Has Deployed a Prototype System for Monitoring Commercial Space Operations but Faces Integration Challenges
What We Looked At
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for safely managing the National Airspace System (NAS). This requires coordinating commercial and military aviation with increasing numbers of commercial space transportation launches and reentries. Citing this increasing frequency and the need to integrate commercial space operations into the NAS, the Ranking Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Aviation requested that we examine the FAA’s Space Data Integrator (SDI) program and other actions taken by FAA and the aerospace industry related to commercial space integration. Our audit objectives were to assess (1) FAA’s progress in implementing the SDI program and (2) actions taken and planned by FAA and the aerospace and aviation industries to integrate commercial space operations into the NAS.
What We Found
FAA deployed an SDI prototype in 2021, but its effectiveness in providing launch and reentry data to stakeholders is limited because it only receives data from one operator, only tracked one launch at a time until recently, and is only installed at the FAA Command Center. Additionally, FAA has not finalized plans and requirements for a successor program intended to leverage the SDI prototype. The Agency is not expected to make a Final Investment Decision regarding this new program until September 2027, with the intention of gradual implementation through fiscal year 2032. FAA has connected with stakeholders to provide input on commercial space integration issues and implemented some of their recommendations. However, FAA has postponed taking action on other identified shortfalls and recommendations pending final decisions on implementing a successor program for SDI, which is now delayed. Finally, while FAA has implemented procedures aimed at reducing the amount of time commercial space operations impact NAS airspace, the Agency faces operational and policy challenges to efficiently integrate these operations.
We made four recommendations to improve FAA’s ability to provide and capture information regarding its efforts to integrate commercial space operations. FAA concurred with all four recommendations and provided appropriate planned actions and completion dates.
Update: As required by the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, this report has been updated to include comments submitted by non-governmental organizations or business entities specifically identified in the report (see Appendix B).