Skip to page content

Fact Sheet – Commercial Space Transportation

For Immediate Release

June 28, 2010
Contact: Henry J. Price
Phone: (202) 267-3883


The United States' space program has three sectors — civil, 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). 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).  For more than two decades, AST has issued licenses for over 200 launches and has also licensed the operation of eight spaceports throughout the country.  A spaceport is a FAA approved launch site.

Commercial Human Space Flight

The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 established the regulatory framework for commercial human space flight.  The law established an "informed consent" protocol for carrying space flight passengers and created a new experimental launch permit for test and development of reusable suborbital launch vehicles.  The “Informed Consent” rules became effective in February 2007 and the experimental permit rules became effective in April 2007.

The rules require launch vehicle operators to provide safety-related information to passengers and to identify what rules an operator must follow in order to conduct a licensed launch with human passengers.  All space flight passengers must be fully advised, in writing, of the risks associated with human space flight and they must agree to accept those risks. The protocols also include training and general security requirements for space flight participants.

As part of the 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.
  • Oct. 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.
  • December 23, 2004 – Commercial Space Launch Amendments act of 2004 gives the FAA the authority to regulate commercial human spaceflight.
  • June 12, 2006 — AST issues launch site operator's license to Oklahoma Spaceport at Burns Flat, Oklahoma.
  • Feb. 13, 2007 — New FAA requirements take effect for crew and passengers involved in private space travel.
  • April 6, 2007 — FAA finalizes the new guidelines for obtaining experimental launch permits. The permits allow vehicle developers the opportunity to experiment and test their vehicles prior to applying for an FAA launch license.
  • December 4, 2008 — FAA issues amateur rocket regulations.
  • December 15, 2008 — AST issues launch site operator's license to Spaceport America near Las Cruces, New Mexico.
  • January 11, 2010 — AST issues launch site operator's license to Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
  • April 7, 2010 — AST issues first-ever safety approval to the National Aerospace Training and Research Center (NASTAR) for equipment designed to replicate individual suborbital flight profiles.
  • June 2010 — The Obama Administration outlines new National Space Policy that recognizes opportunities and advances in commercial capabilities.  The 2010 policy lays out more specific ways for the government to purchase, modify, acquire and transfer to commercial capabilities compared to the earlier 2006 policy.

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 or reentry activities, and to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial space transportation.


This page was originally published at: