Astra To Receive First Part 450 License

Astra announced on Twitter yesterday that it expects to receive the first-ever Part 450 launch license from the FAA by Friday. That could allow the company to launch from the Florida Space Coast for the first time Saturday, carrying four NASA CubeSats aboard a Rocket 3.

Part 450? In light of the growing commercial launch sector and, in turn, the need for more mission clearances, the FAA is aiming to streamline the licensing process. Part 450 rolls up all the previously-required licenses for launch operation into one, combining former Parts 415, 417, 431, and 435. A quick recap:

  • Parts 415 and 417 address the launch of expendable launch vehicles.
  • Part 431 addresses the launch and reentry of reusable launch vehicles.
  • Part 435 addresses the reentry of launch vehicles and components other than reusable launch vehicles.

Part 450, then, simplifies the launch licensing process by rolling these four licenses up into one general launch and reentry license for any type of launch vehicle. The licensing process will be shorter and more flexible under Part 450, and the license will be valid for five years.

Why? This is the latest in a string of actions by the federal government to stimulate commercial space industry growth and increase US presence in space. This condensed rule comes from Space Policy Directive 2 (SPD-2), one of seven total federal directives serving this goal. (The fourth, if you remember, is what created the Space Force in 2019.) 

The backstory: SPD-2, passed in 2018, called on US federal agencies to review existing spaceflight-related regulations and remove redundancies. It directed the Secretary of Transportation to:

  1. Require a single license for all types of launch and reentry (sound familiar?)
  2. Replace “prescriptive requirements” for launch and reentry licenses with “performance-based criteria.”

Flash forward, and nearly four years later, the regulations have been reviewed and condensed, and Astra is about to be the first to benefit from the streamlined licensing process. We shouldn’t expect that it will be the last. 

+ Stats at a glance: On its website, the FAA says it has licensed 432 launches, 29 reentries, and 13 spaceport operators.

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