top of page

The FAA and Space Flight with Wayne Monteith

Recorded during September 2021's Conversations for the Future event, join Tim and Wayne Monteith as they talk about the roll the FAA has been playing in Space Flight and what the future holds for more launches across the U.S.

Wayne Monteith was appointed to his current position at the, as the Federal Aviation Administration's Associate Administrator for commercial space transportation in January of 2019.

After retiring from the U S Air Force as a Brigadier General in this role, he is responsible for regulating the safety of the U S commercial space transportation. Mr Monteith. Last us air force assignment was operating the world's busiest spaceport leading over 9,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel.

As the commander of the 45th space wing and director of the Eastern range. He oversaw the successful execution of 66 space flights, 23 booster landings, and the first successful operational use of a fully autonomous flight.

Connect with Wayne on LinkedIn

Episode Transcript:

[00:00:07] Tim is the executive director and co-founder of Foundation for the Future, a former CIA and army intelligence officer, Tim supported the national space council and the joint staff at the Pentagon. He holds master's degrees in intelligence studies and international relations and affairs from American unit.

[00:00:27] Mr. Chrisman is the author of the book, "Humanity in Space", and a various articles about the expanse of our civilization in space. His next challenge and mission is to make space accessible survivable and ultimately routine enough to be very boring. Wayne Monteith was appointed to his current position at the, as the Federal Aviation Administration's Associate Administrator for commercial space transportation in January of 2019.

[00:00:57] After retiring from the U S Air Force [00:01:00] as a Brigadier General in this role, he is responsible for regulating the safety of the U S commercial space transportation. Mr Monteith. Last us air force assignment was operating the world's busiest spaceport leading over 9,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel.

[00:01:21] As the commander of the 45th space wing and director of the Eastern range. He oversaw the successful execution of 66 space flights, 23 booster landings, and the first successful operational use of a fully autonomous flight. Welcome Wayne and Tim. I'm really looking forward to your conversation.

[00:01:44] Wayne Monteith: Thanks Lee.

[00:01:48] Tim Chrisman: Yeah. Welcome. Wayne it's. It's great to have you here. I am. Listened in on the talk you gave a couple months back with the commercial space flight Federation, where[00:02:00] you really pull back the curtain behind how and what FAA is doing. And you did it in an accessible. And you did it.

[00:02:09] They just how the FAS licensing tool for commercial space spaceport licensing is a, more user-friendly than the majority of government sites. That's the vibe you brought in it. So I'm really excited. We're able to bring you here to chat more.

[00:02:27] Wayne Monteith: I appreciate the time Tim and I'm going to take just a little exception with the opening.

[00:02:32] I hope space never gets boring normal. Yes. Semi routine. Absolutely. But I can tell you for, from my perspective this where this receive this industry right now, this is a second Renaissance of space and on a scale of boring to something else, it is so far from boring that I can't even put that outer bound on the road.

[00:02:56] Tim Chrisman: No, I'm with you. And when we talk about that, I'm we're [00:03:00] really thinking, like I'm going to go get on a plane once I'm done talking with you. I don't know how that flies. I don't know why it flies. I just mindlessly get on. I fall asleep. I wake up I'm there. And so that's the sort of background nature that we're trying to make.

[00:03:16] Space and it can't be done without, the work that you all there at the FAA are doing. And that begs the question. What brought you to the FAA? You have a, a long military career launching running ranges, leading ICBM, squadrons.

[00:03:36] Wayne Monteith: So it's it's it's a unique journey.

[00:03:40] I would say interesting as well, and one that was incredibly full of opportunity and tremendous mentors. But the journey really started all the way back in high school. I was fortunate to have grown up in Hawaii and lived on an air force base. I was my father served in the air force.

[00:03:57] And I could ride my [00:04:00] bike down to the end of the runway and watch F four Phantoms take off. And we're also very near Honolulu international. So I had just a tremendous love of aviation. And as a matter of fact, as soon as I was able my best friend and I learned how to fly, got our pilots, private pilot's license licenses in, in high school.

[00:04:23] And now we fast forward a little bit, and when I got to college, I was super interested in physics mathematics and computer science. And that was all going well until I ran into or decided I wanted to join ROTC. And I originally wanted to. But unfortunately my eyesight wouldn't allow it but I did decide I wanted to go on operations.

[00:04:46] And so they had me change my degree. And I ended up with a degree in geography, focused on climatology and remote sensing. So the environment and came in as a nuclear weapons officer into the air force and [00:05:00] eventually transitioned into space. And just fell in love with all things space.

[00:05:04] And the man that last assignment we talked about really brings this all home. So not only it was it operational and launching rockets but I was also responsible for free for three airfields. So I understood a little bit about airports. I understood about air traffic control and absolutely understood about safety.

[00:05:24] So all of those core things that the FAA does, I never expected to come back into government service. I certainly never I didn't expect to move back to Washington DC. I did both of those things and I stayed fully retired for a grand total of six weeks before I transitioned from the air force to the FAA.

[00:05:42] But that's because this job seemed perfectly suited for my background. And it was an opportunity to work with some tremendous professionals throughout the FAA and in my organization in hopefully to make a difference.

[00:05:57] Tim Chrisman: Yeah, no, it sounds like you were, [00:06:00] groomed for this position, former army guy.

[00:06:02] And so I very, understand the idea that, you're putting a position in Dole, not how it's gonna, you're not gonna like it now, but you will later. And that's what it sounds like happened to you with this, because, just that just the running multiple airfields while also managing space launches seems like.

[00:06:19] Ideal thing to have is you're going in when you know, a lot of the talk now is almost, how do we transition space launch from this once in a while thing to almost the commercial aviation model. Routineness and, bringing those lessons in what can we learn from, the, that transition in commercial air flight?

[00:06:44] Wayne Monteith: So I, I think that the biggest lesson learned it's something, I was told that a couple of years ago when I got into this job as an, as a regulator we can either be inhibitors, we're accelerating. The industry is going to move forward, particularly in this [00:07:00] dynamic time. And so we choose a consistent with public safety to be accelerators wherever possible.

[00:07:06] How do we keep the public safe by also allowing innovation in this dynamic industry? And I think that's critical. And you talked a little bit about, the, kind of the growth that we're seeing. I think it's important to cage the audience's perspective on where we are. So just one decade ago, 2011, my office only licensed a single commercial space launch for the entire year, fast forward five years.

[00:07:32] And we were at 11 launches. So we went from one a year to one about every five weeks. We're now about every five dates. It is incredible that the pace that we're seeing and as a matter of fact, it was interesting. I've been here at the FAA for about two and a half, little over two and a half years.

[00:07:49] Now we have our current count of licensed launches. Commercial launches that we've done sits at about 414. [00:08:00] A quarter of those have occurred since I arrived one quarter. And so when you look at that and you also look at, the difference between 2016 and now. We are projecting. We're going to see a 400% increase in cadence.

[00:08:17] It is incredible what's going on. And so again, we can either we're in the middle of it, whether we want to be or not, and we do want to be there, but we can either allow this industry to innovate and go forward where we can slow them down us unnecessarily. And I'll close this little bit with, as being responsible for public safety.

[00:08:37] It is our job when required to every now and then just tap the brakes on the pace that industry is moving in. And we do it with a lightest tapping of the brakes that is necessary to to make sure that our industry continues to be safe. They all want to be safe, but sometimes, you just gotta slow down and a little bit and say, let's just make sure because of those 414 [00:09:00] launches.

[00:09:01] That we've licensed. We have never had a serious injury or fatality to a member of the uninvolved public. And you got to keep in mind, these are controlled explosions, every single launch. And I would say that's an enviable safety.

[00:09:18] Tim Chrisman: Oh, absolutely. You're replacing the the payload of a nuclear missile and putting humans in it and saying, see, in a bit it's it's truly staggering how this works and how we're, involved in this.

[00:09:33] And bordering on 500 launches. No. No fatalities is pretty pretty impressive.

[00:09:40] Wayne Monteith: And it's, it's, if we look across the industry that, for the first 50 plus years of space flight, is primarily a government function and did a phenomenal job. But what we're seeing now with the so much focus of this in the commercial industry, Is we're [00:10:00] really seeing revolutionary change, not just evolutionary from the days of Goddard.

[00:10:05] We're seeing revolutionary change with autonomous flight safety systems. We've fly back. When you can reuse or re fly a rocket booster 10 or more times fundamentally changes the landscape that we're seeing and really opens up that aperture for more and more companies, satellite companies, or private citizens to be able to get to space or experience space.

[00:10:33] Tim Chrisman: Yeah, no, I it's, it's exciting. And the, in many ways this was the promise of the space shuttle that we never really realized and to see it coming is so cool. And now when I was I was laughing a little bit, when you were saying, it's your, you as the regulator's job to occasionally lightly tap the brakes and, I, the.

[00:10:57] Every morning when I get up, I have a huge [00:11:00] list of space related news and policy stories. And any of those break tappings is 50 or more news articles about how could the FAA be doing this, but when you read into it all that's happening. You all asked for some information. And an enviable position to be in to be sure.

[00:11:21] Wayne Monteith: I can tell you when I show up on the wrong side of Twitter with anybody, who's got millions of followers I can tell you the eight people who follow me on Twitter are outraged because they understand what I do but that's just part of the job, and we understand that.

[00:11:36] And at the end of the day, No, in my statute entitled 51 of the U S code. It actually says regulate only to the extent necessary. And I embrace that. We don't want to regulate to 101% never to 110%, but only to the extent necessary to protect the public property in the national security and foreign policy interests the United States and that's it.

[00:11:59] And I [00:12:00] think we've been relatively successful busting.

[00:12:03] Tim Chrisman: Yeah, no. And I think the track record and the pace of how fast you all have been able to scale and if I'm right without adding a ton of new people, as the throughput in greased,

[00:12:17] Wayne Monteith: that's interesting. So when I talk about our staffing and our budget, I never start with.

[00:12:21] In the last five years, we've increased the size of our staff by 15% because people are like, their first response is what bloated government bureaucracy. But when you put it in the environment that our workload has gone up over 400%, that 15% increase to keep pace with industry doesn't seem that terrible a price to pay because our industry the U S commercial space or space transportation, Absolutely leads the world and it's appropriate because it's an economic driver.

[00:12:52] It's a driver for national security. It's quite frankly, it's even a driver for stem, science, technology, engineering, and [00:13:00] mathematics. In our next generation, you can get excited a little bit watching the rocket launch on television, but there's nothing like seeing a rocket launch in your own backyard from, a place like Cape Canaveral or the iconic Kennedy center.

[00:13:14] Tim Chrisman: Yeah, no. And both my kids or at least moderately interested in space, one a lot more than the other. And we were talking earlier about how her 10th birthday is coming up and about what she would want to do. And, she would want to see a launch from Cape Canaveral rather than Disney, right next door in Orlando.

[00:13:34] And I tell her all the time, like you're not right in the head kid. But I like it. So let's go. Exactly. You can do both. And as we've seen this proliferation of space ports around the country, I'm sure you're asked all the time, how many is the right amount. And of course the answers just just enough, but it is there, a continued [00:14:00] appetite for more spaceports around the country.

[00:14:03] Wayne Monteith: It's a, it's an interesting, it's an interesting question and I'm not sure what the right answer is because it really depends on industry and the continued growth in industry. What I believe you're going to see is and we're already starting to see this, most of the launches today occur on the two big federal ranges, which is on the Eastern range, which is Florida and the Western range, Vanderburg space force base out in California, but they have natural capacity to limiter.

[00:14:32] In California it's because the launch sites are launch pads are lined up north south. So if you've got a rocket sitting on the Southern launchpad, you don't want somebody watching over the top of you rightfully and at Cape Canaveral and Kennedy, they're just running out of space for available new launchpad.

[00:14:50] So there's natural constraints there. And so there, then you have to look forward. Do you want access to space to be your limiter, to be successful in [00:15:00] space? And my suggestion would be no. And the way we're set up right now is we don't go out and actively say, okay for instance, New Hampshire, you need to stand up a spaceport so that you can be part of this.

[00:15:13] But if New Hampshire comes to us and says, Hey, we want to have a spaceport in our state or our local county, then we will evaluate that. And we don't evaluate. Business part of it, there are two primary things we do on a spaceport. Number one is safety, of course, public safety, but even more so the environmental aspect, can you be environmentally sound?

[00:15:35] And because it takes a a significant amount of time to make it through the licensing process, you don't actually have to have an actual rocket provider as part of your application. So it's really a two-part process. So on the spaceport side, it's really heavy environmental and less so safety, which means you only have to have a notional vehicle and a notional plan to get to [00:16:00] space like a single launch asthma.

[00:16:02] But once you get that spaceport license, then if a rocket provider a launch provider comes in, now we really shift a far more focused on C. And less focused on environmental. Not that environmental isn't important, but a lot of that work has already been done on the spaceport side. So it's really a two-part process that we found works really well because if you happen to be a launch provider and you say, I want to start launching from New Hampshire and you go to New Hampshire, it could be three, four or five years before you complete that spaceport a portion, which means that as a launch provider, you've probably already looked to go somewhere else.

[00:16:41] Tim Chrisman: Yeah. Yeah, no. And I was just talking with manes state department of economic development and saying look, this is the application you put in for your spaceport. It doesn't need to be real in a sense that you have the full. You need to have what it's going to look like, where it's going to be.

[00:16:58] You can fix the rest, [00:17:00] while your licensing and post-production, as they say in Hollywood,

[00:17:04] Wayne Monteith: right. It's really about who's going to come in and fly there. That's really where the safety and that's why the environmental is so important upfront. And, and that's another thing that that brought me the FAA, because they are so focused, they are all also focused on the environmental aspects and making sure that operators good neighbors.

[00:17:21] Yeah. One of the most important things we did at Cape Canaveral was maintained the most prolific endangered sea turtle breeding ground in north America. That was all on the property that I was responsible for. And again, it's another nice connection but we want to make sure they're environmentally sound and it's we refer to it, on the spaceport side is you're you're planning on a notional vehicle.

[00:17:44] So a small club. Medium classroom, a big heavy rocket. And then we'll evaluate that to the extent that we can, but if you're a rocket provider coming in, now we start that process over to make sure that we maintain that perfect safety.

[00:17:59] Tim Chrisman: [00:18:00] Yeah, no. And there they're really two sides of the same coin is it's what it sounds like.

[00:18:04] In the whole topic of this month's event is sustainability in space. And as we saw with Columbia and challenger, not having the safety there. Put a grinding halt to a lot of ambitions and dreams. And so every bit, as much as recycling in space, having, mechanisms in place to prevent accidents.

[00:18:26] And then the trust that if there is one, the regulators are going to come in on the backside and review it and evaluate what happened. And we don't just need to start from square. One sounds like those are. Two sides of what you're working

[00:18:40] Wayne Monteith: on. It absolutely isn't. And I would say though, that, even with the shuttle program, NASA is the premier space engineering organization in the world.

[00:18:50] And those were tragic and unfortunate accidents that we hope to never see again. But, when we come in and, notionally about [00:19:00] somewhere on the order of 10 to 15% of the launches that we licensed experienced some sort of mishap. Now, the first thing people think of are the big fireworks type displays, but that's some of them but more often than not it's something didn't go according to plan.

[00:19:15] So when engine throttled back a little bit of. And, or you were just a little bit off course or something else occurred. And so what we have done is shifted our focus over the last couple of years, that rather than wait, and we oversee all of these investigations and sometimes we conduct the investigations ourselves, but rather than wait till the entire investigation is complete, because that also includes mission success.

[00:19:42] We work diligently with the companies to validate that the safety systems work as. And would work as advertised again. In other words, we clear the safety case so that when the company is ready to return to flight, again, we don't become an impediment unnecessarily to their return to flight. [00:20:00] And so it is as much as we are interested in mission success.

[00:20:04] It's not in our core responsibility. It's public safety.

[00:20:09] Tim Chrisman: And as you're saying that I was thinking if one of the engines on my plane home this afternoon, throttles back at the wrong time, I sure what, like on investigation as to why. And yeah, this just seems like a sort of natural things that we should be all getting behind.

[00:20:28] Wayne Monteith: Yeah. It really isn't, and quite frankly, the FAA has got a tremendous. Of being in a successful safety organization and quite frankly, our administrator Steve Dickson refers to safety as our north star which I think is appropriate for space folks he's all in on space.

[00:20:46] And, but we really do. We embrace it throughout the organization that it's safety. First safety always.

[00:20:53] Tim Chrisman: Yeah, no. And I I wanted to shift gears here a little bit and talk about I am [00:21:00] a non-scientist coming into the space community. A lot of the people on here are as well. And it's an indicative of the space economy.

[00:21:09] That's moving away from rocket scientists and almost Olympic level astronauts. What, as you look out and are looking into the future, what are those careers and trades that you are most excited to see emerging

[00:21:24] Wayne Monteith: here? Before I get into that first thing I'll say is we still need stem.

[00:21:28] And we need a lot we seem to run out of engineers long before we run out of engineer jobs. And so it's important that we do our part to help excite and prepare the next generation of rocket scientists and engineers going forward. One of the, so there are many different opportunities here.

[00:21:48] Everything from, if you look at the aviation industry, there's a whole secondary industry that's built up around that. Whether it's mechanics, maintaining. Logistics folks folks running the [00:22:00] airports flight attendants, worried about safety, constantly travel agents, all of those things.

[00:22:05] But what I would tell you something that I find really intriguing. Now, if you went back to that back in your way back machine and talk to, young way, Montes back in high school, and you gave me the option of being an airline pilot or a rocket. I can tell you the direction I would have leaned and it would certainly be to be a rocket pilot.

[00:22:27] And that's what we're seeing today with operations like Virgin galactic, you actually have pilots trained to fly, essentially a rocket ship. So this is almost for those of you. Again, we'll go back in the way back machine, this is buck Rogers. Long before work drive that we had this excitement and suit.

[00:22:44] So I think the aperture's completely wide open and not just for technical degrees it, at some point in the, probably in the very near future, we're going to have more creative folks, artists and stuff, going into space and bringing their experiences back, which again, will hopefully help [00:23:00] excite the entire community.

[00:23:02] And especially those folks that are not yet in our country.

[00:23:07] Tim Chrisman: Yeah, no. And that's really, one of the goals of this event is bridging that divide and being an accessible place for those who aren't on the inside and may feel intimidate. By the technical details or, scared, they won't understand.

[00:23:23] And trying to provide a accessible entry point there as spaces becoming this more mainstream area. And you're, as you talked about, if we're doing it on the ground, we're probably gonna need it in space. If you could convince one, the public one thing about space, but what would that be?

[00:23:45] Wayne Monteith: I would work to shift the narrative, that space isn't important spaces, absolutely important. We've seen it throughout our history, whether it's GPS, which allows. To have exquisite communications to be able to use an [00:24:00] ATM at the gas station, all of these secondary things, I'll go to the old, the old joker analogy that, I don't need no stinking satellites.

[00:24:09] All I need is my handheld GPS device. And it's that's an interesting concept but how important space is, from that to microprocessor advanced. To quite frankly, solar cells, all of those things that that we utilize here on the planet that we take for granted. And if you really are truly interested in affecting climate change positively and being concerned about our environment, there's really no better way to get a sense of how the.

[00:24:38] Is evolving and how the earth and use absolutely a non-scientific term, but how the earth fields without sensors in space that be able to take that holistic view of the entire planet. And so I think it's critically important for folks to understand that the dollars that are spent in space translate directly and indirectly to our quality [00:25:00] of life and the future of our planet.

[00:25:02] And quite frankly, whether you look back to when we were a seafaring nation or an aviation nation, as humans, we're explorers and it's time to push the bounds, it's time to go off world and create our, or turn science fiction into science reality, whether it's going to Mars or.

[00:25:21] It's warp drive or maybe a flux capacitor, but all of those things are in the realm of the.

[00:25:30] Tim Chrisman: Yeah, no, I think that's a phenomenal way to look at it. I, when I talk about, or talk to people who are saying, we should fix the earth first. I talk about how, we're not, shooting kinetic projectiles at Mars or the moon and just ramming them into the ground.

[00:25:46] And, it's filled with billions of dollars. I'm like, no, these are. No dozens, if not hundreds of prototypes of systems we can use here on the ground, not all of them are going to work, but a lot of them end up making our lives [00:26:00] insanely better. And yeah, I think you're exactly right there. I know we're at time and so I want to offer you a chance for any closing comments before we transition out

[00:26:10] Wayne Monteith: Too much, I just, again, I appreciate the opportunity to spend time with.

[00:26:13] And as we talk about the environment and I'm confident that y'all have addressed this and we'll continue to address it, but we can't forget how important space sustainability is as well. And being good stewards. Of that environment, because quite frankly, if you don't have a safe environment, there is no business.

[00:26:33] There is no exploration. If you can't get to space, none of the rest of it exists. So I think it's critically important as we go forward. Particularly as we see these super constellations go up, that we're also cognizant of our responsibility to protect that environment, which is fragile, around our planet.

[00:26:51] And it needs to be built into our system. And quite frankly, we need to move forward with making sure things don't continue to bump into each other and [00:27:00] encourage those companies who are looking to. To find innovative ways to remove debris that's already on a little bit. And the environment here is precious and as is, our near earth environment as well.

[00:27:13] And we have a responsibility to take care of it.

[00:27:16] Tim Chrisman: Yeah. Said, thank you,

[00:27:17] Wayne Monteith: Wayne. Thanks, Tim. Really appreciate it. And thank you, Lee.

[00:27:22] Lee Steinke: Thank you, Wayne. It's always great to hear such passion and animation from a regulator. Really fun to see how excited you are about everything that's going on.

[00:27:35] Wayne Monteith: Thanks again.

26 views0 comments


bottom of page