"The Stars Are Aligned"
Dr. George C. Nield, Washington DC
September 15, 2010

2nd Annual Space Entrepreneurship Forum

I am honored to be able to participate in this very special event today, and I’m glad to be bringing some good news about what’s been happening in Commercial Space Transportation.

Space – the final frontier – has always captured the imagination of the young, and the young at heart.  But given all that is going on right now in our nation’s space program, it is becoming increasing clear that the timing is right for the business of space. You might even say that the stars are favorably aligned. 

Let me give you a little background on my role in this burgeoning field.  Each day, I have the pleasure of leading one of the most knowledgeable, dedicated, and passionate teams in the Federal Government—the employees who work in the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Our office has a two-fold mission: to ensure public safety during commercial launch and reentry activities, and to encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space transportation.  And I am pleased to report that during the past twenty five years, there have been 202 FAA-licensed launches, all of them completed with no fatalities, serious injuries, or significant property damage to the uninvolved public. So we’ve got an outstanding safety record.  But that doesn’t mean we can be complacent—in fact, we focus on safety every day, in everything we do.

In his book “Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” the famous management guru Peter Drucker points out that in the United States, an entrepreneur is often defined as one who starts his own small business.  But he notes that, and I quote, “not every small business is entrepreneurial or represents entrepreneurship.  The husband and wife who open another delicatessen store or another Mexican restaurant in the American suburb surely take a risk.  But are they entrepreneurs?  All they do is what has been done many times before.  They gamble on the increasing popularity of eating out in their area, but create neither a new satisfaction nor new consumer demand.  Seen under this perspective they are surely not entrepreneurs even though theirs is a new venture.” [end of quote] On the other hand, Drucker notes that McDonald’s was an excellent example of entrepreneurship.  Although it did not really invent anything, by carefully applying management principles, standardizing the product and the process, focusing on training, and setting standards, McDonald’s essentially created a new market and a new customer.  And that’s really what entrepreneurship is all about.

Today, more than ever before, entrepreneurship and commercial space are becoming inextricably woven together. With the upcoming retirement of the Space Shuttle and the President’s new national space policy, which strongly emphasizes the importance of the commercial space sector, there is a clear opening for new business entrants.  

Whether we’re talking about delivering supplies to the International Space Station, or building an entirely new industry involving sub-orbital space tourism, private companies are poised to become key players in our nation’s overall space program.  But it’s not just the companies building rockets that we’re talking about.  A number of businesses are being formed to do mission planning, flight safety analysis, crew training, spaceflight marketing, and outreach and communications.

And new opportunities are opening up every day: Less than a month ago, the FAA announced a new Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation, with New Mexico State University selected as the leader of a team of universities as part of a public-private partnership between government, academia, and industry.  We will be investing $10 million in matching grants over the next 10 years to allow students and faculty members to work on problems of interest to the FAA and the rest of the commercial space community.  And we’re very excited to be supporting that effort. 

Looking to the future, conquering the new frontier will take the skills and abilities of many different people in a wide range of disciplines, not just rocket scientists, but venture capitalists, communicators, experts in space law and policy, regulatory specialists, transportation analysts, and software programmers.

As with any new ventures, it will require dreamers, innovators, risk takers—people with varied interests and diverse backgrounds—especially those who are willing to go beyond the limits of traditional thinking in order to explore the unknown and figure out how to bring the benefits of space down to earth.

This is an exciting time for the space entrepreneur.  The challenges are great.  But the opportunities are plentiful. So let’s get to work!