"Remarks for the FAA International Priorities Panel"
Dr. George C. Nield, Washington, D.C.
February 16, 2010
Second FAA International Forum
It’s a pleasure to be part of this panel as the single FAA line of business whose mission is space transportation.
As a preface to explaining our international priorities, let me go right to the core truth about what’s going on in that world.
Spaceflight is at a crossroads.
That simple sentence frames three powerful facts.
First, after decades when two nations essentially ruled the road in space, there are now many more roads under construction by many more countries. In fact, there are enough countries involved so that a space marketplace is already here today with serious international competition.
Second, these new roads are not all built exclusively by governments. A number of potential space players are private companies, both in the United States and elsewhere.
Third, these new roads don’t all look the same or carry the same kind of traffic. Some are built for exploration, others for lunar visits, still others for objectives ranging from space tourism, to service in low-earth orbit, to suborbital research.
So spaceflight that was once exclusive is today vastly more diverse both in ambition and country of origin.
That’s vital background information as we consider the work of the Office of Commercial Space Transportation at the FAA.
We license commercial launches, reentries and spaceports. Since 1989, we’ve licensed 200 launches, all without any fatalities, serious injuries, or significant property damage to the uninvolved public.
As we approach a new era in private space flight, law and regulations are in place for suborbital space tourism. But there is much work ahead of us, much experience to be gained, and much to learn.
As more countries became interested in the commercial operation of space transportation —whether hosting spaceports for US vehicles or privatizing government operations or developing new vehicles—AST began to recognize it could and should increase its international role.
In 2008 we established an international outreach program with the objective of promoting our regulations in other parts of the world.
We did it because we believe our successful track record in safety, matched to our pacesetting legal and regulatory regime mandated by Congress could serve as a model for consideration and possible adoption by other countries.
So we began to talk to those countries.
From the U.S. perspective, we see serious value in achieving a level of interoperability with other countries that have been able, or are interested in, creating a similar regulatory foundation. An arrangement like that would be useful to an active international space marketplace where we believe American developers could successfully compete. It would also serve as a basis for international safety.
To that end, AST has in the past 15 months, met one-on-one in discussions with the governments of Japan, France, United Kingdom, Sweden, South Korea and Singapore.
I also spoke at the United Nations in Vienna last year to a subcommittee of the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
AST is also aware of spaceport interest in the United Arab Emirates, the Caribbean, and Spain, while at the same time we are engaged with our seven domestic spaceports licensed by the FAA.
In the next five years, our priorities internationally include:
Continuing to meet with other space organizations to discuss and promote our regulations. Candidly, we believe it is too early for governments to discuss international standards for new suborbital vehicles when those vehicles have yet to be tested. At this point, we do not yet embrace the idea of an ICAO for space. Part of it is because we want to keep the United States in the forefront of the commercial space transportation industry, adapting and modifying regulations as necessary to meet needs as we find them. But an equally important reason is that it will be some time before there is enough experience and data on space vehicles carrying humans to reasonably discuss broader regulatory protocols beyond the one we have already established in the United States.
Nevertheless, we see ahead of us the prospect of moving from an introductory phase to perhaps a bilateral agreements phase with other countries. For example, we expect the FAA will be licensing U.S. commercial vehicles operating in other countries such as Virgin Galactic in Sweden and XCOR Aerospace in South Korea.
We plan to work more closely to broaden awareness in API and other U.S. agencies about what AST does and the industries potential impact on them.
We also plan to work on developing regional strategies with API such as in the Asian-Pacific area or in Europe where the fledgling space side of the European Aviation Safety Agency has different objectives compared to individual European nations trying to attract new space vehicles.
Commercial companies are currently developing orbital vehicles to resupply the International Space Station and return to Earth. We expect there will be new commercial capabilities both for cargo and for carrying astronauts for NASA to low Earth orbit and back. Orbital commercial space tourism opens up new possibilities and new regulatory challenges for government.
We are mindful that there are limits to the FAA’s ability to cooperate in the international arena because of U.S. export policies on space technology. Nevertheless, we will keep moving forward to work on commercial spaceflight issues with other nations wherever that is possible.
Just last week, the FAA conducted its 13th Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference. The theme was “Igniting the Space Economy.” Right now, spaceflight is literally a worldwide opportunity. And the FAA is in the forefront. We intend to maintain our leadership role, while doing our best to continuously improve, thereby setting the pace for commercial space transportation around the world.