Michael S. Kelly

Michael S. Kelly

Chief Engineer and Chief Technical Advisor to the Associate
Administrator, Office of Commercial Space Transportation
Federal Aviation Administration (retired)
BSME '78, MSME '83

For his visionary leadership in the aerospace industry as an inventor, engineer, entrepreneur, program manager and federal administrator, enabling increased access to outer space.

Michael S. Kelly has helped expand access to space through leadership positions in both government and commercial programs. A groundbreaker whose colleagues describe as a hands-on engineer, he has played a key role in novel launch techniques, new-generation “green” fuels, and safety protocols for public launches and rocket demonstrations.

As a 40-year veteran of the aerospace industry, Kelly has led initiatives across the spectrum of land-based strategic missiles, missile defense, and government and commercial space launch. He is a technical innovator, experienced systems engineer, project and program manager, and an entrepreneurial corporate founder and CEO.

In 2010 he was selected as chief engineer at the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST), advising the associate administrator on all technical matters related to licensing and permitting of commercial space launch, reentry, and launch site operation, a business conservatively valued at tens of billions of dollars.

Despite all his many later achievements, Kelly says his seminal professional moment came in 1997 while he was leading the company he founded, Kelly Space & Technology Inc. (KST). His brainchild and patent-producing project, a tow-launch technology called the Eclipse Astroliner, debuted in a subscale demonstration test flight series at Edwards Air Force Base. The Eclipse, a rocket-propelled spaceplane towed aloft by a modified Boeing 747, was Kelly’s answer to the exorbitant costs of launch pad infrastructures. By towing a launch vehicle behind an aircraft, launches could happen virtually anywhere there was a runway. The demonstration at Edwards used a modified F-106 supersonic interceptor, towed aloft by a C-141 transport plane. “Watching all of the activity, knowing that pilots were going to take significant risks, and also knowing that every single person involved that day was fully on board, I was simply overcome with the knowledge that I had made this happen,” Kelly remembers. He is quick to note that others’ contributions also were crucial . “My KST guys were tops.”

Throughout his career, Kelly has played a key role in developing new technologies. As chief engineer at the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST), he was responsible for all its research and development activities, including the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation.

Kelly says that all of his professional achievements began with a deep appreciation for the field of engineering and for Purdue: “Creating an idea that, when translated into reality, increases the material wealth of humanity, is what motivates my life as an engineer. My experience at Purdue was invaluable in showing me how to meld creativity with sound science and engineering. It gave me the tools for fulfilling all aspects of my goals in life.”

This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

William Shakespeare

Career Highlights

2010-2019 Chief Engineer and Chief Technical Advisor to the Associate Administrator, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration (retired)
2015-2016 Program Manager, Tactical Technology Office, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
2008-2010 Chief Engineer, Tactical Propulsion and Controls, Orbital ATK
2006-2008 President, AMPAC Technology Group, LLC
2006-2006 President and Co-Founder, Commercial Spaceflight Federation
2005-2006 Vice President of Flight Operations, X PRIZE Foundation
2003-2005 Technical Manager, Northrop-Grumman Corporation
1999-2010 Senior Advisor, Space Frontier Foundation
1998-2008 Member, COMSTAC (Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee)
1993-2003 Founder, Chief Executive Officer and President, Kelly Space & Technology Inc.
1980-1993 Various positions, Ballistic Missiles Division, TRW Inc.


1978 BSME, Purdue University
1983 MSME, Purdue University