"23rd Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference"
Stephen M. Dickson, Washington, D.C.
January 30, 2020
23rd Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you. Let me start by saying how much I appreciate the significant contributions of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. You are bringing a high level of expertise and collaboration to the table. When the history of the commercial space industry is written, I hope it recognizes how you and this organization helped set the path for success.
You know, Nextflix has a documentary running right now about Scott Kelly: A Year in Space. You see, NASA wanted some data on how the human body stands up to long-term space travel. They got it. The idea of a trip to Mars isn’t as far-fetched as it used to be.
In the documentary, one point struck me – of all the multiple systems involved in a trip to space, the most fragile and destructible system is actually the human body.
It’s true. Space is an unforgiving environment. I’ve done 13 hours in a row in a fighter cockpit, and after a while, it gets tight. Space is a whole nother level. But while the human body is indeed fragile, the human spirit is stronger than steel.
And the American spirit has been on display up there in space for six decades. The people who made space history have shown that we can defy our physical limitations, defy the odds, and do the impossible.
Now having said that, I guess I can’t really use the word “impossible” anymore.
You can all take some credit for that. America has found a home in commercial space, and the view from there seems to be pretty darn good. As we say in aviation, ceiling and visibility unlimited!
We all grew up watching those rockets poke a hole in the atmosphere. And although I myself am still kind of partial to flying an F-15, or even watching an F-22 or F-35 at an air show, after all these years, there are few things more inspiring in life than to see a rocket lift off, especially from American soil.
Or see an astronaut make a spacewalk, or float around in micro or zero gravity.
Today, a new generation of pioneers, like Beth Moses, are making it happen. They are ready to capitalize on the space economy.
By some estimates, it could be worth a trillion dollars by 2040. And 2040 is going to roll up on us a whole lot faster than we think.
You know the big ticket items: space travel and tourism, satellite servicing, space debris removal, in-space manufacturing, and mini satellites to provide high speed internet across the globe.
Hopefully one day, we will be looking at point-to-point suborbital travel.
And maybe someday, one of your companies can make the Kessel run like Han Solo did in less than 12 parsecs.
Now first, we’ll have to figure out if that’s a measure of time or distance. It wasn’t really clear. But I digress…
Seriously, one thing is crystal clear—these pursuits will have a lasting impact on America, the world, and our leadership around the world.
And as long as every business plan has safety as an essential component, this industry can grow beyond what your projections forecast. But only if it is safe. If it’s not safe, take it from a pilot, you’re better off staying on the launch pad.
The FAA’s top priority is the safety of people and property on the ground. And if it’s not your top priority, it needs to be. Otherwise you will miss out on the next big thing.
In Fiscal Year 2019, we licensed 32 space operations. This year, that number could easily reach into the 40’s – just about approaching one operation per week.
We at the FAA are leaning in, and in a big way. We don’t want to just keep pace with you. We want to be an enabler of your safe operations.
That’s why we’re committed to a process of stakeholder engagement. This past year, we received final reports from three Aviation Rulemaking Committees, including the Airspace Access and Integration and Spaceport Categorization committees.
These two committees, supported by many of you in this room, provided numerous suggestions on how we integrate space vehicles into the National Airspace System. And how we develop the spaceport infrastructure that America needs to support our preeminence in space.
The fact that we had aviation rulemaking committees focused on space speaks volumes on how far commercial space transportation has come. If you want to carve out a spot in the National Airspace System, you have to have a regulatory framework to make it all work. In fact, I think we need to start calling it the National Aerospace System.
We are evaluating the committee recommendations now. And while this process plays out, the FAA continues evolving toward more flexible and efficient ways of doing business.
Last year, we issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to safely streamline launch licensing requirements. We received hundreds of comments that are under review. And we expect to issue a final rule by the fall of this year.
The proposed rule will let operators use a single license for multiple launches from multiple launch sites. And we will replace cumbersome, prescriptive requirements with flexible, performance-based criteria.
These steps will reduce the burden on operators and help to foster more innovation without sacrificing safety.
More fundamentally, the FAA is reorganizing our Office of Commercial Space Transportation. For starters, we have strong, knowledgeable, capable and innovative leadership in place. Wayne and his team are doing a great job. They are looking for ways to say “yes” to the continued development and success of this exciting industry.
We are placing all licensing activities under one directorate.
We have also hired a new Executive Director of Operations – Lirio Liu. She comes from our aviation safety rulemaking office. Lirio’s reputation for action precedes her. So Commercial Space – may the Force be with you!
And we now have an office dedicated to spaceport policy. We currently have 11 licensed spaceports with a half dozen potential sites in the pre-application phase.
This office is helping us determine what services, rules and regulations will be needed to support spaceports. It will help us determine funding streams, including grants, to develop and sustain the infrastructure.
We look forward to collaborating with state and local governments on spaceport investment, AND integrating spaceports into our nation’s critical intermodal transportation networks.
Spaceports are one visible aspect of the infrastructure. But there are important parts of our infrastructure that are not physical in nature or visible to our citizens. The adaptations of systems and processes that will enable changes to the way we manage airspace are critically important. We’re making our airspace more flexible and dynamic. We have to.
In the past, space launches were few in number. We could accommodate them by blocking off large swaths of airspace. But this affects the routing of aircraft in a big way. It’s like when you’re favorite road is closed, and you have to take that long detour.
But we’re developing a whole suite of game-changing tools to integrate space operations into the National Airspace System. These tools are a necessary enabler of growth for commercial space, as the operational tempo and frequency of launches and re-entries ramp up over the coming years.
In August, we plan to deploy the Space Data Integrator. SDI will feed real-time data from the space vehicle into the FAA’s Traffic Flow Management System.
Having that data during an actual operation is a big deal. It’ll be like having our own C-3PO – but not nearly as annoying.
We’ll know exactly where the aircraft hazard areas need to be, and how long they need to be there.
And to complement SDI, we are developing an enhanced aircraft hazard area generator. This will help us do all of this much more quickly. We’ll be able to block off less airspace, and release that airspace faster, so it’s available for other airspace users.
SDI is just one of several capabilities under development at the FAA. There are other ones, such as Space Integration Capabilities, that will provide air traffic controllers with the automation to more efficiently, surgically and safely route air traffic around space operations, even with the increased cadence we are projecting in the future.
And we’re already starting to apply several procedural efficiencies.
For example, we’re using time-based procedures, where we can let planes approach the aircraft hazard area, because we will know exactly what time that airspace will become available again.
And we expect that, one day, we will be able to reduce the current larger-than-required aircraft hazard areas, and reduce the number of aircraft affected by a space mission.
Adding on that, we’re developing dynamic launch/reentry windows. We’ll take triggers from the operator’s mission sequence countdown.
For instance, if the operator starts a procedure – say for instance, loading liquid oxygen – then we know that triggers a launch within 30 minutes. And we can block that airspace more efficiently.
We want to know from operators what the various launch triggers are, and then we can work with you to develop these procedures. The better we can make use of telemetry data exchange, and coordination in pre-mission planning phases, the more we can achieve efficiency gains that will give space operators more access to the airspace they need.
In closing, today’s space pioneers are inspiring a new generation of Americans—just as many of us were inspired decades ago, with the Apollo Moon landings and the Space Shuttle missions.
Let’s continue to collaborate. Let’s continue to find better ways to enable this industry. But through it all, together, let’s make safety the launch pad from which we make it all happen.
As we do that, we will unleash the benefits of the space economy.
America will continue to lead the world in this arena.
And we’ll be able to take that next giant leap in space transport – which could be the Mars trip.
Then, after all of that, MAYBE we’ll talk about that Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.