"Cultivating Innovation"
Michael G. Whitaker, Washington, DC
December 11, 2013

Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee

Thank you, George. Good morning, and welcome guests and Advisory Committee members. Thank you for your service on this important committee. This is a very dynamic time for those of us in the space business.              

On the policy front, the President signed the new National Space Transportation Policy last month. It recognizes the increasingly important role of commercial space in supporting both our civil and national security missions.

The new policy recognizes the contribution that commercial space makes to the U.S. economy. This sector is growing rapidly. In 2012 there were three commercial launches. Last fiscal year that number grew to 18 – a six-fold increase.

The new policy comes at a key point in our nation’s space program. Let me give you a quick tour of what’s happening now in commercial space – and how much has changed.

·      After 30 years and 135 great missions, the U.S. Space Shuttle program has ended. The last shuttle launch was in 2011.  

·      In September, industry completed the last launch under the innovative Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. The COTS program successfully demonstrated the ability of private industry to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

·      Now cargo is delivered under contract between NASA and commercial providers. Space-X with, the Falcon 9, and Orbital Sciences with the Antares, use their launch vehicles to transport this cargo according to NASA’s requirements – a fundamental shift in how these missions are met.

·      Space-X also just launched its first customer satellite into geosynchronous orbit – that’s more than 22,000 miles into space. The company has announced that more than 60 percent of its customers are private companies, as opposed to governments. This success demonstrates the growth potential for American companies in this market.

·      Last month, NASA published a request for proposals for the next phase of their commercial crew program. The goal of this program is to develop vehicles to transport astronauts – in addition to cargo – to the space station by the end of 2017. These crew missions will be licensed by the FAA.

·      Meanwhile, DARPA is developing a new program called the Experimental Spaceplane, or XS-1.  DARPA hopes to demonstrate the viability of a low-cost launch vehicle for taking small payloads into low earth orbit. This kind of new, reusable vehicle could be manned or unmanned and serve both government and commercial markets. This work could lead to later development of similar commercial capabilities that could be operated by private companies.

Commercial space tourism operations are just around the corner. This is a big new market that has been talked about for a while, but has not come to fruition until now. It too will be fueled by private industry. Space tourism will be possible because of recent advances in both composite structures and innovative propulsion systems.

Finally, earlier this year, the FAA granted an experimental permit to Scaled Composites, authorizing it to conduct rocket-powered flights of SpaceShipTwo to suborbital altitudes. So far, the company has completed two tests in Mojave, California.  Eventually, the system will be operated by Virgin Galactic from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Two other companies, XCOR and Blue Origin, are also making progress on developing new suborbital vehicles to carry tourists. It’s possible that private industry could fly these tourist space vehicles as early as next year.  The FAA will continue to work closely with these and other suborbital companies as this new market emerges.

So, the president’s new National Space Transportation Policy is coming at an important time, and will support the expanding capabilities of commercial companies. The White House has continued to emphasize the importance of commercial space transportation in achieving our national goals.

I’d like to mention a few highlights in the new policy that are of particular interest to the Department of Transportation and the FAA.

·      The new space policy directs all departments and agencies to cultivate innovation and entrepreneurship through the use of nontraditional acquisition arrangements. This includes the use of fixed price acquisition instead of the traditional cost plus arrangement.

·      The goal here is to encourage the expansion of commercial space transportation beyond the role of government. By using commercial style contracts, the government assumes less of the risk of development of new technology and private companies potentially see greater profits.

·      In addition, more than ever before, the policy facilitates the sharing of databases containing valuable lessons learned from human space flight. These data, held by NASA and the FAA, should be made available to support commercial development of space transportation.

·      The White House policy asks all government agencies to work together to pursue policy, regulatory, and other measures that foster the emerging commercial human spaceflight market. DOT Secretary Foxx has a key role in working with other agencies to achieve this.

·      Stemming from this new direction, the DOT will have exclusive authority to address orbital debris mitigation practices for commercial launches. Debris in orbit is a serious challenge. The recent movie Gravity shows an extreme example of the problems of space debris whirling around the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour. While this is a dramatic, fictional portrayal of debris, the threat is real. If we manage it responsibly, we can mitigate these risks, consistent with FAA’s safety mission.

·      The new policy also supports continuation of the current indemnification risk-sharing regime. This will expire at the end of 2013 unless Congress acts to extend it. Keeping this risk-sharing regime in place helps U.S. companies remain competitive with foreign launch providers that have similar support from their own governments.  

·      And finally, the new policy advocates internationally for the adoption of U.S. Government safety regulations to align global standards. 

So, commercial space transportation is growing at a volume and pace never before seen. This new presidential policy emphasizes the critical importance of commercial space in achieving national goals. At the FAA, we’re working to safely integrate commercial space operations into our airspace. It’s one of our top priorities.

COMSTAC plays a key role in these efforts – facilitating dialogue and collaboration with industry. You help us foster innovation, enhance safety and promote business expansion.  We are looking forward to working with all of you—our partners in government, our colleagues in industry, and international stakeholders to create a bright new future for commercial space transportation.