"Dream Big, Build Big"
J. Randolph Babbitt, Washington, DC
February 9, 2011

Commercial Space Conference


Good morning, and thank you, George [Nield]. For those of you who were with us last year, you might remember that this conference came at the apex of Snowmageddon, about 22 inches as I recall. I was the opening speaker but I ended up delivering last year’s speech over the phone while sitting at my kitchen table. George said I never looked better.

Commercial space is looking up. At the State of the Union, the President told us to dream big and build big. And here we are. I see a direct connection to what he said last April and what brings us here today, and I quote: “Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn, and operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite. And in fulfilling this task, we will not only extend humanity’s reach in space – we will strengthen America’s leadership here on Earth.”

The successes of 2010 have that exhortation well in hand. Last year, there were four licensed launches, bringing the overall total to 200-plus, without any fatalities, serious injuries or property damage to the public. We issued a launch site operator license to Cecil Field in Jacksonville giving America its eighth spaceport. And we issued spaceport grants for the first time to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, Jacksonville Aviation Authority and the East Kern Airport District. It seems like just yesterday, well, April 12, 2007, to be exact, that someone named Bigelow was telling the Washington Post that he had plans to send a series of inflatable space stations into orbit over the next decade.

If you’ve come to this conference looking for an endorsement from the Federal Aviation Administration, you’ve got the right address. I am 100 percent behind our commercial space endeavor. I think that as aviation moves toward NextGen, commercial space is part of that future vision. There is a market for the upper crust of the atmosphere, and there is a lot of evidence that suggests business can thrive there.

With that said, recognize that commercial aviation has set the bar very, very high. The expectation of the flying public is that the safety record must remain unfailingly consistent and extraordinarily strong. If you follow the numbers at all, you know that commercial aviation safety requires 99 point and a string of nines of error free performance. That’s where commercial space should want to live and stay.

If your project doesn’t have the word safety at the top of its list, I can tell you from my experience in the commercial aviation sector, you won’t be successful and you’re not going to be in business very long. But I am confident that safety has a permanent seat at commercial space’s table.

My hope for all of us is that we are able to make the difficult become routine. The commercial space launches that we have now are intricate interplays that require a lot of people with intricate moves expected from the commercial aviation world, from air traffic, from the military. In short, everything stops to accommodate a commercial space launch. As this industry emerges from these early steps, you should be aiming for something as common as the New York shuttles that leave every 30 minutes from 6:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night all day long, everyday.

Now that’s a ways down the road, but it’s doable. The brainpower and the perseverance that have become the foundation for this industry are proof that where there’s an idea, there’s someone who can make it happen.

Our approach at the FAA is to create regulations that promote safety without becoming a hurdle between you and what this industry can and will become. The retirement of the Shuttle will require that commercial space takeover the responsibility for a long queue of customers with fairly large packages to deliver. The FAA is solidifying its relationships with the Air Force and with NASA to ensure this happens seamlessly. Charlie Bolden and I are absolutely in lock step when it comes to how we see the potential for commercial space.

The standard we have set for George Nield and the Office of Commercial Space – for all of the FAA lines of business you deal with – is that we be fair, that we be reasonable, and that we listen. And that's important. When it comes to licensing, regulation, inspection and the availability of air space, we want to be enablers, the people who help you make it happen, and help you make it happen safely.

Our aviation system has a track record for safety that’s become an international model. We want our commercial space activities to develop an identical reputation. In aviation, the airlines and the pilots and the mechanics and the inspectors and the technicians and the controllers all have seen the benefits of working together, pushing in tandem for success. We intend to use precisely the same approach with commercial space. All I’m asking for you to remember is that for us, the predicate for success must be safety. I have all the confidence in the world, even 62 miles up, that you agree. Thank you.

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