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Transportation & Space - Innovation at Work

Friday, April 26, 2019

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Transportation & Space- Innovation at Work
Kennedy Space Center- Cape Canaveral, FL
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Thank you, Bob, for NASA’s hospitality, and for your decades of service to our nation.

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is always an extraordinary place to visit.  I was last here as Secretary of Labor, on November 14, 2008, for the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor.  It was an extraordinarily moving experience to see that American rocket go into space.

Three months from now marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 -- the greatest human feat in the history of the world.  And the culmination of an incredible decade of space exploration that still, all these years later, astounds and inspires. 

Those achievements were realized because of the personal courage and daring of America’s Astronauts -- a tradition of bravery and dedication that continues.  Our nation’s achievements in space are also a tribute to the genius and dogged determination of thousands of men, and women, in and out of government:  engineers, scientists, technicians and so many more.  Many of them are no longer with us but their legacy will endure forever and echoes still in today’s space efforts.

America’s pioneering space missions depended upon the immense, sustained commitment and backing of the Federal government.  Today, government space operations are augmented by private sector space initiatives. This democratization of space portends great things for our nation and the world.

The pace and intensity of innovation today in the commercial space sector is remarkable, and accelerating.  Private sector innovators have developed new technologies including re-usable rockets, air-launch systems, and small networked satellite deployment.

They have driven down the cost of space access.  Experts estimate that the cost to put satellites in geosynchronous orbit has fallen 20 percent over the past five years. 

In 2018, the FAA completed a record 35 launch and reentry licenses.  Commercial Space milestones are occurring weekly, even daily.  In November, the 12th spaceport was licensed, at Florida’s Shuttle Landing Facility -- home of America’s largest and busiest spaceport. 

On December 13, 2018, Virgin Galactic flew SpaceShip2 on a sub-orbital mission that marked the return of Americans to space from U.S. soil, on a U.S.-made vehicle.  That was the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

It was my pleasure to pin a set of commercial astronaut wings on the flight crew.   In February, SpaceShip2 launched again, transporting to space Beth Moses, the first woman to receive commercial astronaut wings.

In March, SpaceX successfully completed its DM-1 mission, as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.  This was an historic milestone in the program’s eventual return of astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.

A few weeks ago, SpaceX launched the first operational mission of the world’s most powerful rocket -- the Falcon Heavy.  That was also one of the most successful demonstrations ever of vehicle re-usability. 

This past weekend, a static-fire test did not go as hoped.  Such incidents illustrate why equipment and systems are subjected to rigorous testing.  As NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine observed afterward:  They will learn, make the necessary adjustments and safely move forward with the Commercial Crew Program.

On April 13, at the Mojave Spaceport, the world’s largest all-composite aircraft -- the Stratolaunch – flew for the first time.  It is a mobile launch platform that aspires to “enable airline-style access to space.”

The launch cadence will quicken.  The FAA anticipates as many as 44 launches this year.  And a preview of the FAA’s National Aerospace Forecast, which will be released later this week:  as many as 56 launches are anticipated annually by 2021.

The Department is working hard to support this innovation.  To that end, it is in the process of overhauling outdated and cumbersome commercial space licensing procedures.

On March 22, the Department released the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Streamlined Launch and Re-entry Licensing Requirements.  The new rule will greatly streamline the process and allow companies to use a single FAA license for multiple launches and from multiple launch sites. 

The goal is to simplify the licensing process for launch and reentry activity, enable novel operations, and reduce costs. To institutionalize this approach, today I’m announcing that the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation is undertaking an extensive reorganization.

The office has performed well to date, but in order to prepare for the future it will be reconstituted under the leadership of General Monteith to maximize the efficiencies of the new streamlined rule.  The Department has also created our nation’s first Office of Spaceports.  The office will approach spaceports from an enterprise perspective.   It will seek to remove barriers to competitiveness and help ensure that the U.S. leads the world in space infrastructure.

I’m also pleased to announce that we have established a new research domain within the Department’s Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation.  It will be dedicated to advancing leading-edge research in the areas of safety and innovation

The Department is partnering with academic institutions in Florida, including Florida Tech, the University of Central Florida, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.  This partnership is focused on regulatory streamlining, space policy, law, and finance, to further advance commercial space research.

The Department is implementing new technology to more effectively manage the national airspace and make launches and re-entries less disruptive to commercial aviation.  It is also working with the Department of Defense on the DARPA Launch Challenge, which will demonstrate the launch capabilities of smaller rockets.

The global space economy’s value is approaching $400 billion a year, and is expected to increase significantly in coming years.  America’s innovative commercial space sector is positioned to win an impressive share of that market. This sector is generating revenue, driving innovation, providing access to extraterrestrial sources of energy and raw materials, and creating new industries and job categories.   

The success of commercial space operations, especially in regard to reusable rockets, also relies on surface infrastructure, including ports.  The Department will soon announce an additional $292.7 million in funding to improve port facilities at coastal seaports.  $92.7 million of the funds are reserved for the 15 busiest ports, including 3 here in Florida.

Last week, the Department began soliciting applications for $900 million of BUILD Transportation grants.  This funding is for surface transportation projects, including port infrastructure, with a significant local or regional impact.  These grants could also be used for certain non-federal infrastructure supporting space launch operations.  Applications are due July 15, 2019.  That should be an easy date to remember. 

On that date, fifty years ago, Apollo 11’s countdown-to-liftoff was underway. 

As many as one billion people alive today can recall where they were when Astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon’s surface. 

Space today still retains an aura of excitement, achievement and possibility.  Year after year, NASA is selected as “The Best Place to Work in Federal Government.”  The U.S. Department of Transportation currently comes in at #4.   But it is trending up.  With commercial space in our portfolio, we’ve got our eye on Number One.  Or at least a strong Second!

As you can see, the spirit of innovation is embedded at the U.S. Department of Transportation.  Just yesterday, the FAA awarded the first air carrier certification to a drone delivery company.  This first-ever certification is one of the results of the Department’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.  And the latest in a succession of Departmental initiatives to promote and assist innovation in transportation. 

The President formed the National Space Council at the start of this Administration, on June 30, 2017.  Vice President Pence is its active and engaged chairman.  Since 2012, America was losing its global preeminence in space, dropping to #4 in launches.  Since 2017, America has regained our #1 position in the world. 

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. It is just one of the many initiatives this Administration has launched to reclaim our country’s leadership in space.

When this chapter of history is written, the commitment of this Administration and Department to ensure American leadership in the exploration of space will stand out as one of its finest achievements. And this will be accomplished while retaining a laser-like laser-focus on the Department’s number 1 priority: safety.

I look forward to working with you to help achieve those goals.

Thank you all for being here.  God bless America!

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