26th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference

Kelvin B. Coleman, Associate Administrator, Commercial Space Transportation

Thank you, Sirisha. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the 2024 Commercial Space Transportation Conference!  

It’s wonderful to be with all of you, here, in person. I’ve spotted some good friends already, and it’s great to see the breadth of the commercial space transportation community represented here today – operators, spaceports, manufacturers, government colleagues, international partners, academia, and more.

The FAA is pleased to co-host this year’s event with the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which along with my team did a lot of the heavy lifting to put this event together. Thanks everyone for your hard work. 
We have a terrific agenda prepared that supports our theme of “All Systems Go: Safely Launching Commercial Space Transportation to Greater Heights.”
This is the 26th time we’ve come together at this conference. It’s been a place …

to exchange knowledge and insights, 
present updates on the latest advancements in our field, 
and collaborate as professionals and colleagues.

I have attended every one of these conferences and I know several of you have as well. This one feels more pressing, as we realize all this industry can achieve, and we expand the boundaries of what we are capable of by enabling safe commercial space transportation.


We’ve come a long way together as a community, and we can celebrate a few key milestones this week.

This Saturday – February 24 – is the 40th anniversary of the Office of Commercial Space Transportation in the Department of Transportation. It was created by executive order by President Reagan, so it is rather fitting to be in this building today.

In April, COMSTAC will mark 40 years since its charter was developed as our valued advisory committee. 

And I brought something with me to the podium that I would like to show you.

It’s the first commercial space transportation license application ever received by the Department of Transportation. 

Look at this beauty! I know what you’re thinking -- why isn’t this relic on display in the Smithsonian? Maybe someday they’ll put this right next to the Moon Rock where it belongs. But for now, anyway, we’re taking good care of it at the FAA. 

The application is dated 1988. And it’s signed by Donald Slayton, who you know as the Mercury Seven astronaut and one-time director [of flight crew operations] at NASA. At the time, Deke was president of Space Services Inc. 

After DOT approved the application – and I feel certain that was no small feat – the company launched its three-ton rocket, Starfire One, 35 years ago – on March 29, 1989.

Here’s how the New York Times described the event:

In a foretaste of bigger things to come, the nation's first private rocket big enough to require a Government license roared into space yesterday on a successful suborbital flight lasting about 15 minutes.”

As the spaceship reached heights of 198 miles above Earth, the payload, known as Consort One, included experiments that had all of seven minutes to measure …

  • how liquids mix in weightlessness, 
  • how plastic foam forms, 
  • and how powdered metals bond under high temperature.

The Times called the launch a “modest debut” that “portends big strides for the fledgling private spacecraft industry.

“Some experts” went as far as predicting the industry “could reap billions of dollars in revenue by the turn of the century.”

Well, they were on the right track. Thirty-five years later, the global space economy is now valued at a half-trillion dollars, and just a couple weeks ago, the Space Federation announced that the space economy will be worth over a trillion in the next decade. The United States has contributed roughly half of that substantial commercial activity. 

That translates to good jobs, resilient supply chains and healthy competition.


Space transportation – perhaps more than any other endeavor -- is synonymous with the aspirations of America and indeed our world – reaching for the unknown, defying odds, outdoing everyday dreams.

It offers unprecedented opportunities for scientific discovery and progress in our daily lives. We’ve already seen how it’s contributed to cell phones and communication networks, global navigation, better weather forecasting and national preparedness, agricultural monitoring, understanding the origins of our world, and so much more.

Even more so with artificial intelligence permeating our world and the potential of quantum information science emerging, space holds boundless promise to tackle many of our world’s challenges -- solving food shortages, stabilizing the climate, creating new energy sources, improving health and medicine, and advancements only few could imagine just a short while ago.

This is an extraordinary time to be in the commercial space transportation arena, as we experience a surge in technological innovation, broader scope and reach, and incredible growth in launch frequency that can make these things possible.

  • Since 1989, the FAA has licensed or permitted more than 700 commercial space transportation operations, more than any other country in the world.
  • Just five years ago we averaged one launch per week.  Compare that to the pace we experienced in 2023 – when we averaged one launch every three days. 
  • We had 124 total operations in 2023 – up nearly 50 percent from the year prior. That’s tripled just since 2020.
  • In fact, in January, we eclipsed the record for one month with 13 operations [up from 12].


Amid this growth, the FAA is ever more committed to our responsibilities to …

  • protect public health and safety, 
  • safeguard property, 
  • and defend the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States. 

Beyond our regulatory duties, we are leaning in as a partner to encourage and facilitate private sector operations… because we recognize that enabling safe space transportation is central to ensuring the United States continues to be a global leader in space.

For those who are new to this field and aren’t fully aware of the FAA’s role beyond licensing and ensuring launches, we’re engaged in a host of other activities with agency partners -- NASA, the Departments of Defense and Commerce, the Coast Guard, to name a few, and our international collaborators, many of whom are represented in the audience today.  These engagements are necessary in countless ways – to protect our security, our natural resources and essential communication networks.

For continued success, no part of our community can stand still while the others race ahead. We must all do our part. 

At times, we must be able to count on one another for help, and today you will hear me both offer up help and ask for it in return.

The FAA and my office in particular – AST – have embraced a mindset and methods to become better, smarter, more agile and efficient – always in ways that won’t compromise safety.


Safety is a priority for everyone in this room and there’s certainly a lot to be proud of – not a single fatality or serious injury as a result of one of these operations.
Still, this is no time to rest on our record. The best time for vigilance is when we’re not trying to recover from a crisis. Healthy partnership can prevent a bad day from ever happening.

The FAA’s culture is to learn from every operation, and identify potential risk and reduce it, so that potential hazards and vulnerabilities become smaller and fewer.

We know the consequences can be enormous if we get it wrong – consequences for lives, our atmosphere, our industry, and more. 

That’s why we don’t cut corners. Safety is our North Star and our compass will always point there.

Human Space Flight

This is increasingly important as human space flight becomes commonplace.

Here’s yet another milestone for you – we have been licensing crewed missions for 20 years now.

  • 150 astronauts and space flight participants have been on board 40 missions since 2004, when Mike Melvill became the first commercial astronaut aboard Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne to win the Ansari X Prize.
  • Of those 150, 48 traveled to space just last year, and 10 more have done so since January.

While we await Congress’ direction on the learning period or moratorium, my team recognizes we must be proactive and ready to shape human space flight.

  • That’s why we published an update to our Recommended Practices for Human Spaceflight.
  • And we established a SpARC – an aerospace rulemaking committee – to help us determine the scope and cost of occupant safety regulations, and recommend a safety framework for future regulations. We’ll look for recommendations from the SpARC 460 by this summer.

Here’s what we’d like to see from industry. You can help by developing voluntary standards through standards bodies and related committees. Quality standards that are reached collaboratively can translate to less time spent developing a means of compliance, and quicker review time by the FAA.

AST Staffing

Now, quicker review time is something we tend to hear a lot about. We know innovative companies want to move swiftly, and they want us to run with them.
One way AST is meeting increased demand for our services is by shoring up our workforce and other resources.

When I joined the FAA in 1996, AST had about 40 employees. Ten years ago, we had 73. Now, thanks in part to a robust recruitment campaign we call Find Your Place in Space, as of this week, we have 143 staff members, and we’re aggressively filling vacancies with a goal of growing to 157.

And let me assure you, it’s a privilege for me to lead this hard-working, skilled AST team. They are often juggling multiple competing priorities, doing everything they can to ensure your operations are enabled 24/7/365. 

Something that operators can do is make sure your licensing applications are in good shape at the outset, with strong narratives in compliance artifacts that spell out exactly how you comply. And it’s important that you minimize the amendments and go-backs. Because when you make a significant change, that often triggers a delay as we have to go back and gauge how it impacts relevant parts of the mission. 

When quality inputs come from the applicant, more expeditious approvals are possible, so it’s a win-win for all of us.

Part 450

My team knows that to be more efficient, we needed to shift away from mission-by-mission approvals and toward approvals of processes and methods. That’s why we fully embraced the overhaul of our launch and reentry regulations about three years ago.  

Part 450 replaced prescriptive public safety requirements with performance-based requirements also sought by industry to provide more flexibility, allow more methods of compliance and clear the path for innovation.

We designed part 450 to allow operators to obtain a license for a portfolio of operations.  

Now here’s what we need from industry – a timely transition to part 450 from legacy licenses by the March 2026 deadline.

If you’re having challenges with the transition, please share those issues with us so we can help you resolve them. You don’t have to wait for a COMSTAC meeting or a congressional hearing, or another formal opportunity.

My team holds “office hours” every other Friday for anyone who has questions about the Flight Safety Analysis Methodology, and we’re accessible in other ways.


We have heard input from some of you already. We understand that part 450 was developed very quickly and we are all learning together as we go along. We have considered some opportunities to smooth out a few wrinkles and enhance it to better meet its objectives.

So today I’m announcing that the FAA will create a part 450 aerospace rulemaking committee, known as a SpARC, that will address some of these opportunities for improvement.
This SpARC is an opportunity for industry leaders to work with us to iron out some areas we have already identified as challenging, things like the approach to reentry vehicles and hybrid vehicles, the need for alternative approaches for applicants who are in the test flight phase of a program, and flight safety analysis methodologies. It will help us further enhance part 450 to reduce the burden on the applicants and licensees as well as the FAA, and enable the FAA to process applications with greater expediency.   

We’ve had a good deal of success with SpARCs, and I’m eagerly awaiting the final committee report from the Financial Responsibility SpARC. 

I appreciate the time and efforts of those who are participating in the Financial Responsibility and Human Space Flight SpARCs, and I hope we can continue to count on some of you here today to contribute to the new 450 SpARC.

We are eager to kick off the new part SpARC by fall, maybe even earlier.


Now that we’ve consolidated rules into one performance-based rule with Part 450, and enhanced our staff to better manage increased cadence, we want to utilize modern technology tools to adapt to the surge in applications.

One example of how we are doing that -- AST recently awarded a contract for a new License Electronic Application Portal called LEAP.

  • This portal will streamline the licensing process for new applicants and provide more transparency into the process. 
  • LEAP will guide applicants in a step-by-step process, and case management will allow for two-way communication.
  • We expect to have an initial viable tool by this fall.

LEAP is necessary in part because our team spends too much time fishing for specific data points as they sort through applications that are thousands of pages in length.

Applications definitely don’t look like this anymore. (hold up Starfire One application again) No two are alike. I’d call them unique masterpieces, but I wouldn’t want to get carried away.

We are looking forward to more streamlined documents that are easier to navigate, especially as we deal with more incoming requests.

In-space Authorization

Another way commercial activities are growing is through the work you are planning on doing in-space – such as on-orbit servicing, orbital debris removal and space-based manufacturing. 
We have been working hard with the National Space Council on the best way to address novel space activities that aren’t directly regulated under the current U.S. regulatory system. 

We know there are a number of other options that have been discussed, but we are completely supportive of the Administration’s framework as are Commerce, NASA, DoD and other stakeholders.

  • You as operators would only have to apply for one license to conduct all transportation activities including launch, in-space transportation and reentry.
  • The Department of Transportation would handle all human spaceflight activities in addition to launch and re-entry, and flights with the sole purpose of in-space transportation of cargo or goods.
    • AST's current launch and reentry responsibilities and the authorities sought by the legislative proposal carry different risk profiles that won’t require the same level of resources. So, we expect to be able to use a light touch.
  • The Department of Commerce would regulate activities like uncrewed in-space assembly and manufacturing.

This option provides clarity, flexibility and predictability.

This is something I hope we can count on you to voice your support about in forums where your influence will make a difference. We are ready for this plan to move forward because it will help industry and help enable safe space transportation.


Now let me say something about spaceports. We’re up to 14 licensed spaceports and they’re going to play an increasing role in launch missions, as well as hosting training, manufacturing and other activities.

Two years ago, at this conference, we announced the formation of the National Spaceport Interagency Working Group. I’m pleased to announce the group just completed a comprehensive set of recommendations that will be released very soon. These recommendations promote innovation and investment in spaceport infrastructure, … and facilitate cooperation and partnerships among spaceports both domestically and internationally.  They also set out to establish consistency in operations and standards at U.S. federal and commercial spaceports.

I hope that some of you will have an opportunity to attend our International Spaceport Forum this fall. We plan to host it right before the International Astronautical Congress in Milan on October 13.

It will be a chance for spaceport directors and regulators from all over the world to come together and discuss challenging topics that face the space transportation industry as it goes global.


I mentioned earlier that to reach greater heights, no part of our community can stand still while others race ahead.

I hope you can see that while the FAA will always dig in on safety, we aren’t digging in on doing business in the same ways we have in the past. 

Today I have outlined just a few initiatives that FAA and AST have underway that will both make our work more seamless and help you execute your missions. 

As the government leader in commercial space transportation, we’ve invested -- in our team, in automation, in processes, in our regulatory framework, and by tapping into the knowledge and experience of other leaders in the field [through SpARCs and other forums].

Continuous growth and improvement are needed as we rethink, reimagine and revolutionize the possibilities for our aerospace system.

As the global leaders in space, we must model how space activities should be conducted – responsibly, peacefully and sustainably.... to inspire the next generation of students, researchers, engineers and explorers – the people who will expand boundaries and lead us into the exciting unknown.