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Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Council

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Council
Washington, DC
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Thank you, Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell, Assistant FAA Administrator for Policy Bailey Edwards and all the members of this Advisory Committee for your time and efforts on this very important effort.  As I told the National Space Council just a week ago, this is the beginning of a new era in America’s aerospace history – one that historians of the future may dub “The Rocket Renaissance.”

For 14 long years, the country that put the first men on the moon was no longer number one in rocket launches.  We even slipped to third place.

But that has changed.  Numerous firms have developed new technologies which include air-launch systems, small networked satellite deployment, and, most of all, re-usable rockets.  They have revolutionized space launches and driven down the cost of space access.  Bloomberg reported in July 2018 that the cost to put satellites in geosynchronous orbit has fallen 20 percent over the past five years due to increased competition.  And experts predict the increasing use of reusable technology will drive prices even lower.

In 2017, America finally regained its position as number one with a record number of launches.  And the good news is that we have broken last year’s record with 35 licensed and permitted commercial space operations in fiscal year 2018.

I like to think my career as a public servant was launched at the same time the current wave of commercial space innovation first took flight.  My first government job was to work on transportation issues at the White House under President Reagan.  He established the Office of Commercial Space in 1984, and because rockets are a transportation system, placed it in the U.S. Department of Transportation.  He also launched the Strategic Defense Initiative.

As you know, one major achievement of that SDI program was the development and building of the McDonnell Douglas Delta Clipper, or DC-X.  The Delta Clipper was revolutionary because it was the first large rocket that successfully demonstrated the ability to lift off, maneuver, and then safely re-land.  It was, in many ways, the mother of re-usable rockets, and was developed and built for only $60 million.  Construction on the Delta Clipper began while I was Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

After witnessing those first steps of Commercial Space, it is exciting to see it begin to hit its stride.  The global space economy is now valued at nearly 400 billion dollars a year, and is expected to triple in value over the next seven years.  Our country’s innovative Commercial Space sector stands to win a lot of that potential business.  This will contribute to economic prosperity and create whole new categories of good-paying jobs.

Commercial Space access confers other advantages.  It drives technological innovation.  It adds to scientific knowledge and can provide access to unlimited extraterrestrial sources of energy and raw materials.  By lowering the cost of space access, Commercial Space will create whole new industries.  It will enable space tourism, and make it easier to provide global internet and communication coverage.  It may even make it possible to put nonpolluting power generating satellites into orbit.  It will strengthen national security.  But what may be most important of all, it will inspire humanity with hope for a future with unlimited possibilities.

So, with these potential benefits in mind, the Department is doing all it can to help Commercial Space maintain its momentum.  Let me share some updates.

As mentioned, last week I attended a meeting of the National Space Council.  Vice President Pence reconvened it to ensure commercial space activities are being supported at every level of government.  I gave an update on the Department’s progress in implementing the President’s recent Space Policy Directive.

The Vice President directed the Department to consider requiring a single license for all types of commercial space launch and re-entry operations.  This proposed rule will:

  • Overhaul the Federal government’s outdated and cumbersome approach to commercial space licensing;
  • Consolidate all launch and reentry license activity into a single regulation;
  • Allow operators to use more flexible launch timeframes;
  • Let them request a single license to launch from multiple sites; and
  • Will set robust safety objectives – while giving commercial space operators the freedom to figure out the best designs and solutions.

Simply put: this proposal has the potential to be a game-changer and make American launching sites, as well as American launchers, more attractive to the global marketplace.

Of course, we’re not just improving regulations to support the commercial space industry.  We’re also looking at ways to leverage technology and automation to make the licensing process easier.

For example, we’re studying how technologies like the Space Data Integrator can make commercial space launches less disruptive to our airspace system.  It will provide enhanced situational awareness using real-time telemetry and vehicle operational data.  Knowing exactly where the launchers and aircraft are located, where they are headed, and how the launch vehicle is performing, allows air space managers to react more quickly.  And it provides them more flexibility in managing the airspace.

To make these improvements and keep abreast of the rapid pace of commercial space innovation, the Department needs to hear directly from those on the front line – in other words – you.  COMSTAC is a very important forum for giving the Department the advice and recommendations that we need to help shape policy and other Commercial Space-oriented initiatives.

Your insights and wisdom are valuable to us.  So, thank you again for spending the time to attend this COMSTAC meeting and for participating in the working groups.  The Rocket Renaissance has begun.  You have helped to create it, grow it, and now with your assistance, it will reach new heights for the benefit of not only America but all humanity.

Thank you, and best wishes for a productive meeting.

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Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2018
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