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Speech – "A Hot Streak"

"A Hot Streak"
Daniel K. Elwell, Washington, DC
February 7, 2018

FAA Commercial Space Conference

Remarks as Delivered

Commercial aviation is on a hot streak, but so is commercial space.  And we can do better.  We all want to see more launches.  We want more spaceports.  But what we need is streamlined regulatory processes.  FAA can’t be a rubber stamp; nor can, or should, we be a hurdle.  Time waits for no one, and I think that’s true of commercial space.

Let’s get to it.  We need to license launches faster.  But, Industry must improve its safety performance—just like the airlines.  I expect more from FAA.  I expect more from industry.

Before we move too far along, I think more talk about safety is time well spent.  The importance of safety cannot be overstated—especially in what I consider still are our early days. 

As exciting and promising and attractive as commercial space may be, we must take caution not to get ahead of ourselves.  This industry can ill-afford the barnstorming reputation that affixed itself to aviation a hundred years ago. 

Space flight was no stranger to missteps in its infancy, some catastrophically so.  Thankfully, those days are mostly behind us, but they are instructive these many decades later. 

Now, in our zeal to punch through and make commercial space a viable and reliable enterprise, we can’t overlook the importance of safety. 

Safety is the key to the front door of the national airspace system.  I’m optimistic about commercial space transportation—as long as safety is its cornerstone. 

What I see is a positive indicator, a very positive indicator.  We set a record for licensed commercial space launches last year you set a record– and we’re on track to surpass that in 2018.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.  Innovation is changing what’s possible in commercial space on an almost daily basis.  If you think about it, that’s how it is in the U.S.  We know that economic prosperity and world-class leadership begins with innovation.  The unrivaled prosperity and quality of life that our country enjoys has almost always begun with some kind of innovation. 

And that’s true, of course for commercial space.  Without sacrificing safety, we must act with the urgency and agility to match pace with the speed of innovation. 

The idea of reusing boosters was just a pipe dream a few years ago. Today, it’s routine. Well, 2 out of 3, but I think that’s still impressive, if you ask me!

History’s going to remember this one.  It was a day the entire the aerospace industry took a giant step forward.  And the best part; an American company, on American soil, an American car will be circling the sun. 

Neil Armstrong took that one giant leap for humankind.  The next step is here in this room, and it’s time to take it.  America has always been the world’s leader in space.  That can – and must – continue. It’s essential to both our economic and national security interests.

NASA relies on commercial space launches to support the International Space Station.  DoD is increasingly using them for national security missions and technology demonstrations.

These operations also have the potential to support countless new industries that will transform the U.S. economy.

President Trump made space a priority by reconvening the National Space Council last summer. I attended the first meeting last summer at Udvar-Hazy.  Vice President Pence has officials at the highest levels of government working together to clear the way for companies that want to do everything from build space stations to mine asteroids.

The FAA has an important role to play in this process.  Our job isn’t just to ensure the safety of America’s airspace.  It’s to ensure equal access to it.

We’re committed to balancing the needs of all airspace users. This means moving from a system where we accommodate commercial space operations to one where they are fully integrated into our system.  That’s how it will be for drones, and that’s going to be the lay of the land for commercial space transportation as well. 

We chartered an Airspace Access Priorities Aviation Rulemaking Committee. It’s going to help the FAA develop criteria that can be used to consider competing requests for airspace access.  Many of you have been invited to participate in this Committee.  Thank you in advance for your input as we begin this process.

We’re also using technology to help manage increased airspace demands.

The FAA is testing the Space Data Integrator, a tool that reduces the amount of airspace that has to be blocked off for commercial space operations. Once deployed, it will automate procedures for air traffic controllers.  It more efficiently releases blocked airspace so it’s available for other users.

These are important steps forward. But we know more still needs to be done.  As the industry grows, so does the number of license applications.  If the size of this audience is any indication, that’s not going to change.  We need to keep up—which is why we’re committed to transforming the way we do business.

We’ve developed a plan to streamline the steps a company needs to take to secure a license. Our goal is to create a consolidated, performance-based system that will maintain safety while speeding up the review process.  But it’s still going to take some time. So the FAA is also taking steps that will provide more immediate relief to commercial space operators.

We’re going to eliminate the most frequent sources of waiver requests.  We’re going to improve license planning and application development.  We’re going to reduce administrative paperwork and costs for industry and the agency.  And there’s more, much more.  Stay tuned. 

Ingenuity and innovation have always fueled our nation’s success at home and abroad.  We don’t want a rocket tethered to a launchpad with red tape.  We can’t let burdensome government regulations get in the way of America’s thriving commercial space industry.  We must exercise “regulatory humility.”  We must avoid being the government of arrogance.  Government does not always know best.  We believe that when enabled and allowed to do what they do best, American ingenuity will provide the best answer.

As I look around this room, I see academics… engineers… policymakers… and the most visionary technology and aerospace companies in the world.  Each of you has an important role to play in shaping the future of commercial space in America.  And the FAA looks forward to keeping it safe … and collaborating with you to continue taking bold steps toward that future.  Together, we can get there. 

Thank you.


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