Op-Ed | Commercial space activities offer boundless opportunities

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Fifty years ago this summer, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps on the moon. Their “giant leap for mankind” was a venture that could only be accomplished with the might and funding of the U.S. government.

Today, space continues to be the new frontier, but the pioneers are increasingly being found in the private sector. Once considered to be a niche market for major aerospace companies, commercial space transportation is quickly becoming a mainstream sector of aerospace.

The energy and enthusiasm for commercial space transportation was apparent this week at the Paris Air Show, where I was asked to participate on a panel that looked at the opportunities and challenges ahead.

When it comes to commercial space in the United States our approach is simple. Safety must always come first, but it’s clear that public-private partnerships have become a key part of America’s future in space.

The facts speak for themselves: 33 successful launches in 2018, up from 23 in 2017. This year, as many as 41 launches are on the planning calendar.

More than 370 FAA-licensed space activities have occurred since the first commercial launch in 1989, and no one in the public has ever been injured. We believe it is possible to maintain that safety record while enabling innovation.

This administration, with the leadership of Transportation Secretary Chao, wants to make sure regulatory requirements don’t keep rockets tied to the launch pad. We’re jettisoning rules that have outlived their usefulness, are duplicative, or are unnecessarily burdensome. We’re cutting two regulations for every one we create. To date, we’ve taken deregulatory actions that will save $64 million.

In February, we released a proposed a rule that would make future regulations less burdensome. These new regulations will be performance-based, not proscriptive. This means the next groundbreaking technology can be nurtured into reality without requiring us to rewrite the rules.

In addition to streamlining the regulations, the Vice President’s National Space Council proposed several directives that will help make the U.S. commercial space sector even stronger.

Through the Council’s direction, we established a rulemaking advisory committee to enlist the help of the best and brightest in the commercial space community to improve oversight of FAA-licensed spaceport launch facilities. A similar group is examining how we can better integrate the increasing pace of commercial space activities with daily aircraft operations.

By the beginning of next year, we will be underway with a plan to make the FAA’s newly reorganized Office of Commercial Space Transportation more attuned to the commercial space operators’ needs.

As we do with aviation, we also are working with partners around the world. For example, a U.S. company is conducting launches from New Zealand, and we expect similar activities to occur in other parts of the world.

Commercial space transportation, like aviation, is a global business that harnesses the imagination and turns it into reality. I’m confident that in another 50 years, our grandchildren will look back on our efforts with the same pride as we do about that time we shot for the moon and made it.

 

Daniel K. Elwell is acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.