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23rd Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
23rd Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference
Washington, DC
Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Thank you, Taber, for the introduction.

And let me also acknowledge Eric, Wayne, and Congressman Garret Graves.

The global space economy is approaching $400 billion. By some estimates, the U.S. accounts for around 80 percent of this space activity, which could be worth a trillion dollars by 2040.

The commercial space sector is remarkably resourceful and innovative. From potential applications of quantum computing to 3-D printed rockets, this sector is not standing still, in any respect. It is estimated that the cost to put satellites in geosynchronous orbit has fallen 20 percent over the past five years. Some foresee a day when suborbital commercial flights will take minutes instead of hours.  

All of these ambitious innovations require reliable space transportation. Since the start of 2017, the U.S. has had 95 licensed commercial space launches and reentries. We had 31 launches and reentries in 2019. And that number could increase to more than 50 in 2020!

To continue building on America’s leadership in this sector will require a regulatory environment that’s forward-thinking, responsive, versatile, and, above all, prioritizes safety.

Our efforts at the U.S. Department of Transportation are guided by three priorities. The first is: safety, which is always #1.

The second priority is rebuilding and refurbishing our country’s critical infrastructure.

And the third priority is preparing for the future by engaging with emerging technologies to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security, and privacy, without hampering innovation.

Any successful initiative requires the right people in the right roles. That is why I am so pleased to have Steve Dickson heading up the FAA and Dan Elwell as the Deputy FAA Administrator. And General Wayne Monteith as Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation, Kelvin Coleman as his Deputy Associate Administrator, and Acting Director of Spaceports James Hatt who are leading our commercial space efforts.

To meet the increasing cadence and complexity of commercial space, the Department is developing new Streamlined Launch and Re-entry Licensing Requirements. The proposed rule will provide a safe, performance-based regulatory approach to commercial space transportation and a framework conducive to innovation. It will improve safety requirements and enhance collaboration among stakeholders. The rule will also improve efficiency by encouraging launch site and reentry operators to suggest and implement design and operation solutions.

The Department has also created our country’s first Office of Spaceports. The office will approach spaceports from an enterprise perspective. It will seek to remove barriers to competitiveness, empower state and local partners, and help meet the needs of the rising frequency of launches.

The FAA is also hard at work to integrate space operations into our National Airspace System. Through integration and automation, there will be increased efficiency and improved management of airspace traffic as launches increase.  

In addition, the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation is undergoing an extensive reorganization. This provides an opportunity to retool and improve internal processes to better meet the needs of stakeholders while still protecting the public. It will create better accountability by placing responsibility for all licensing and oversight activities under one executive.

Supporting the commercial space sector is a priority at the highest level of this Administration. The President formed the National Space Council on June 30, 2017, with Vice President Pence as its chairman. The President has also established the Space Force – the new frontier. This is an idea which has been discussed for decades but is now a reality. These are just some of the many initiatives this Administration has launched to maintain our country’s leadership in space.

Not long ago, America was losing its global preeminence in space. The Space Shuttle Program launched its last shuttle in 2011. By 2012, we were #4 in launches. Since 2017, however, America has regained the #1 position in the world for commercial launches.

It was my pleasure to be the first U.S. Secretary of Transportation to pin a set of commercial astronaut wings on a flight crew. About this time last year, on February 7, 2019, I presented Commercial Astronaut wings to the crew of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity. Lead pilot Mark Stucky and co-pilot Frederick Sturckow had successfully flown the Unity to the edge of space.  

On February 22, 2019, three more individuals qualified for this honor when Virgin Galactic made another qualifying launch. Only seven pilots have ever received commercial astronaut wings from the FAA.

The Department of Transportation has played an essential role in the U.S. space sector for over three decades. In that time, we have developed and maintained vital partnerships—both intergovernmental and with the private sector—and accumulated in-house expertise. This is the foundation of a successful regulatory environment.

The commercial space industry--and the services it enables--is increasingly important to our economy and is contributing to a better quality of life for our citizens. That is why the Department is doing everything it can now to prepare for the commercial space transportation demands of the future.

Thank you.

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