The Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) was established in 1984 as part of the Office of the Secretary of Transportation within the Department of Transportation (DOT). In November 1995, AST was transferred to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as the FAA's only space-related line of business. AST was established to:
- Regulate the U.S. commercial space transportation industry, to ensure compliance with international obligations of the United States, and to protect the public health and safety, safety of property, and national security and foreign policy interests of the United States;
- Encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space launches and reentries by the private sector;
- Recommend appropriate changes in Federal statutes, treaties, regulations, policies, plans, and procedures; and
- Facilitate the strengthening and expansion of the United States space transportation infrastructure.
AST manages its licensing and regulatory work as well as a variety of programs and initiatives to ensure the health and facilitate the growth of the U.S. commercial space transportation industry through the Office of the Associate Administrator along with its five divisions: the Space Transportation Development Division, the Licensing and Evaluation Division, the Regulations and Analysis Division, the Safety Inspection Division, and the Operations Integration Division.
- Office of the Associate Administrator
- Space Transportation Development Division
- Licensing and Evaluation Division
- Regulations and Analysis Division
- Safety Inspection Division
- Operations Integration Division
The AST issues FAA licenses and permits for commercial launches of orbital rockets and suborbital rockets. The first U.S. licensed launch was a suborbital launch of a Starfire vehicle on March 29, 1989. Since then, AST has licensed over 230 launches. The AST also issues licenses for the operations of non-federal launch sites, or "commercial spaceports." (PDF) Since 1996, AST has issued site operator licenses for eight commercial spaceports.