HomeTeslaHow the FAA Reduces Flight Disruptions During Rocket Launches Like Artemis I
How the FAA Reduces Flight Disruptions During Rocket Launches Like Artemis I
August 31, 2022
NASA conducted the missions and landed a total of 12 astronauts — the first being Neil Armstrong of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969.
Source: World Population Review
Now, after decades of waiting and anticipation, NASA is finally nearing its return — a feat it hopes to accomplish by 2026.
The goal of the mission, known as Artemis, is to establish a “gateway” to the Moon and build a base camp on its surface, according to NASA.
The agency will start with the highly-anticipated Artemis I on August 29, which will be a 42-day unmanned flight test. Though, the date is subject to change.
Artemis II will be a flight test mission carrying astronauts…
…while Artemis III “and beyond” will operate as regular crewed missions on and around the Moon.
Artemis I will be the first test of the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and the ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The space vehicles will allow scientists to more thoroughly explore the lunar body, with the eventual goal of sending a human to Mars.
A mission as complex as launching a rocket into space requires the collaboration of government agencies, private companies, and multiple countries, like the Federal Aviation Administration, Lockheed Martin, Japan, the UK, and France-based Airbus.
Source: US Department of State
The planemaker has produced the European Service Module for Artemis I, which will “provide propulsion, power, air and water for the astronauts, as well as thermal control of the entire spacecraft.”
The FAA has a particularly vital role during launches and reentries because it regulates the national airspace system (NAS), so its oversight is necessary to “efficiently managing air traffic during space operations.”
The FAA Space Operations Office, known as Space Ops, is the unit that specializes in integrating space operations into the NAS.
Its Challenger room, where the agency oversees the Florida operations, is located at the agency’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC) in Warrenton, Virginia.
Air traffic organization (ATO) space operations manager Duane Freer took Insider on a tour of the room to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes during space launches.
According to Freer, the Challenger room was dedicated on November 8, 2018, to the FAA’s former deputy director of system operation services Virginia Boyle…
…and named after the Space Shuttle Challenger crew who tragically died in an accident in 1986.
The agency’s oversight of the missions started in 2014 when it began collaborating with the federal ranges that previously oversaw the operations, including Wallops Flight Facility, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, and Vandenburg Space Force Base, Freer told Insider.
Freer said there are an estimated 100,000 satellites to be put into orbit in the future, so the FAA realized the need for improved airspace management.
Initially, the ranges ran the missions with airspace given to them by the FAA, which then got a phone call saying the mission was done. But, there was a time lag in communication, resulting in airspace closing much longer than needed.
Because commercial operators compete for the same airspace, Freer said “efficiency is the upmost importance,” and the agency started innovating its systems to reduce the time airspace was closed during each launch.
In 2018, which is when the FAA started real-time operations from the Challenger room, the airspace around Cape Canaveral was closed for up to four hours per launch.
This means airlines and general aviation aircraft had to avoid the area for extended periods of time. Many had to take delays due to the issue or circumvent the East Coast of Florida, burning more fuel and spending more time in the air.
However, the FAA wanted only to reroute affected planes, meaning those that were to enter the aircraft hazard area, which is a a three dimensional space spanning from the ground to 60,000 feet in the air, per the agency.
Instead of waiting on the launch operator, like NASA or SpaceX, to give the go-ahead to reopen the airspace, the FAA can now better estimate when the space vehicle will launch and when any potential debris will be gone from the area.
The information helps air traffic controllers know when to start detouring planes around the closed airspace, how long they will need to keep them clear, and when they can move them back in.
“We took a time-based approach using our existing tools to strategically manage the aircraft so they get out of the airspace right before the launch and back in post-launch,” he said. “We want to reopen the airspace as soon as we can.”
The agency also has a hotline open during missions, which has the range, operators, the Department of Defense, and all air traffic facilities involved, so they have real-team awareness of when the airspace should be closed and reopened.
For example, SpaceX supercools its liquid oxygen on its Falcon 9, so once it starts loading the fuel, it can only keep it cool long enough to launch for 35 minutes. SpaceX notifies the FAA of when that process starts.
The FAA then knows that SpaceX has to launch in 35 minutes or scrub. If the company has a three-hour window, the agency can do the math and release hours of airspace back to the system.
They also build in time for SpaceX’s booster to land back on Earth, which can be about eight minutes.
Moreover, the agency works with airlines and general aviation operators to ensure they know the plan, like posting Notice to Air Missions (NOTAMS) and sending the Airspace Management Plan (AMP) three to five days in advance.