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SpaceX president slams space regulations: 'It requires heroics' to make minor changes

  • "The U.S. government must remove bureaucratic practices that run counter to innovation and speed" in space, president and COO of SpaceX Gwynne Shotwell said.
  • She called for deregulation as industry executives met with White House officials Thursday.
  • The meeting was the first for the National Space Council since it was disbanded in 1993.

SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell called for deregulation as space industry executives met with White House officials Thursday at the first National Space Council since it was disbanded in 1993.

"If we want to achieve rapid progress in space, the U.S. government must remove bureaucratic practices that run counter to innovation and speed," Shotwell said.

With Vice President Mike Pence and other space executives focusing on the broader goals of American leadership in space, Shotwell honed in on the grittier regulatory details of the status quo. She says that SpaceX is "working well" with the Federal Aviation Administration. Yet she quickly gave a caveat, saying "it requires heroics" for vehicle operators to adjust rocket launch licenses.

"You have to basically apply for a new license" if an operator makes a change like switching launch pads at a spaceport, Shotwell said.

Among those in the audience was George Nield, leader of the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation office, who told CNBC on Sept. 13 that he is working to resolve the enduring conflict between aircraft and spacecraft. He said the FAA is targeting this integration, but "the reality will be an evolution."

SpaceX wants that licensing process streamlined so it can launch more frequently. This year it has successfully completed 13 of 13 launches, which Shotwell said "is more than any nation."

But Shotwell criticized the amount of time it takes to apply, saying the process takes six months "and then you re-apply at 90 days, 30 days, and then 15 days to file a flight plan."

SpaceX wants the National Space Council to hearken back to NASA's commercial orbital transportation services program, or COTS. Shotwell said the program offered a "firm fixed price pay for performance" with "competitive principles." COTS allowed NASA to "rapidly yield two new spacecraft and two new rockets," Shotwell said.

"Regulations written decades ago must be updated to keep pace with the new technologies and the high cadence of launch from the United States if we want a strong space launch industry here at home," Shotwell added.

She, like the other executives, stopped short of reiterating Pence's statement that America has "lost our edge in space." Instead, Shotwell remained focused on the present.

In fact, Shotwell believes SpaceX is bringing back the dominance U.S. experienced in space in the 90s, an idea repeated by the executives of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Orbital ATK, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada Corporation also in attendance.

"America is out-innovating the rest of the world in space launch," Shotwell said. She repeated SpaceX's plan to carry American astronauts to space next year.

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