For Immediate Release

April 6, 2007
Contact: Henry J. Price
Phone: (202) 267-3883


The United States' space program has three sectors: civilian, military, and commercial. The commercial sector was created in 1984 with the passage of the Commercial Space Launch Act. From this law, responsibility for licensing, regulating and promoting the private sector space industry was given to the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), which was originally an office within the Office of the Secretary of Transportation (DOT). Today, the office is one of the lines of business within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The 1984 law requires U.S. citizens to obtain a license prior to conducting the launch of a rocket. The only exception is for missions conducted by and for the government (such as NASA or the U.S. Air Force). Over the last 20 years, AST has issued licenses for over 170 launches and has also licensed the operation of six "spaceports" throughout the country to conduct commercial space launches. There have never been any public casualties or significant property damage associated with these launches.

The mission of AST is: 

"To ensure the protection of the public, property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States during commercial launch and reentry activities, and to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial space transportation."

The Dawn of a New Era — Commercial Human Space Flight

A recent space tourism industry study included a poll of affluent Americans. Results of the survey found that space tourism could generate more than $1 billion per year in revenues by 2021. The study also found that suborbital flights will constitute the biggest share of this emerging market, with the potential for 15,000 passengers and $700 million in revenues per year. Orbital flights were found to possibly include up to 60 passengers and generate $300 million per year.

The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 put the regulatory framework in place for commercial human space flight. The law put Congress and the administration on record as supporting the development of this private sector effort. The law established an "informed consent" regime for carrying space flight participants (passengers), and created a new experimental launch permit for test and development of reusable suborbital launch vehicles. The “Informed Consent” rules became effective in December 2006 and the experimental permit rules became effective in April 2007.

The 2004 law challenged the FAA to "encourage, facilitate, and promote" this new activity in a way that continuously improves safety. The new rules call for launch vehicle operators to provide certain safety-related information and identify what an operator must do to conduct a licensed launch with a human on board. In addition, launch providers will inform passengers of the risks of space travel in the operator’s vehicle in particular. The protocols also include training and general security requirements for space flight participants.

As part of the new measures, launch providers must also establish requirements for crew notification, medical qualifications, and training, as well as requirements governing environmental control and life-support systems. An operator must also verify the integrated performance of a vehicle’s hardware and any software in an operational flight environment before carrying a space flight passenger.

Significant Milestones in Commercial Human Space Flight

  • April 1, 2004 — AST issues the first launch license for a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) to Scaled Composites.
  • April 8, 2004 — Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne RLV completes the first private sector human commercial rocket launch.
  • June 17, 2004 — AST issues the first license for an inland Spaceport to Mojave, Calif.
  • June 21, 2004 — AST awards Mike Melvill the first commercial astronaut wings for his successful flight of SpaceShipOne.
  • October 4, 2004 — The XPrize, an international competition established to award private industry a $10 million award for completing two successful commercial human space flights in the span of two weeks, is awarded to Scaled Composites for its successful flights of SpaceShipOne. Brian Binnie, the pilot of the vehicle, is awarded FAA's second set of commercial astronaut wings.
  • May 25, 2005 — FAA briefed to its Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) the new guidelines for obtaining experimental launch permits. Guidelines were publicly released the same day. Modeled on experimental airworthiness certificates used in aviation, the permits will allow vehicle developers the opportunity to experiment and test their vehicles prior to applying for an FAA launch license.
  • December 31, 2006 — New FAA requirements went into effect for crew and passengers involved in private space travel.
  • April 6, 2007 — FAA finalized the new guidelines for obtaining experimental launch permits. Modeled on experimental airworthiness certificates used in aviation, the permits allow vehicle developers the opportunity to experiment and test their vehicles prior to applying for an FAA launch license.