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Commercial Space Takes a Big Step Forward

Posted by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao

America’s vibrant commercial space industry demonstrated impressive new capabilities with two important launches in a period of just 5 days. On May 30, two American astronauts were launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida into orbit aboard an American-built spacecraft for the first time since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011.  NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rode aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. The reusable Falcon 9 rocket landed safely onboard SpaceX’s autonomous ship in the Atlantic Ocean. This marked the first successful crewed flight into orbital space with a booster that flies itself back to Earth for re-use.
 
Just four days later, an FAA-licensed SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida carrying another 60 Starlink satellites. The Starlink system will use a constellation of small satellites to provide improved Internet connections worldwide.  482 of them are now in orbit and SpaceX is on track to launch thousands more. The Falcon 9 used in the launch proves the value of reusable rocket technology. This marked the fifth successful flight and return of this rocket’s first stage booster  It also landed safely on the SpaceX autonomous drone ship, and will be readied for future flights.  
 
The commercial space industry has been powering America’s return to space leadership. In December 2018, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity conducted a sub-orbital parabolic flight which became the first U.S.-built spacecraft to carry an American crew into space since 2011. To commemorate that moment, the U.S. Department of Transportation hosted a ceremony on Feb 7, 2019 at its headquarters. I pinned Commercial Astronaut wings on the VSS Unity’s pilot and co-pilot, Mark Stuckey and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow.
 
The U.S. Department of Transportation is taking other steps to ensure the continued vitality and innovation of America’s commercial space industry. The FAA has established an Office of Spaceports to support existing sites and to better manage licensing of new spaceports. There are now 12 spaceports across the United States. The FAA is currently working with applicants for 9 additional sites.  
 
The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, led by Associate Administrator Wayne Monteith, has been making organizational and procedural changes to enable innovation and improve safety. This Fall, the Department will publish a final rule to streamline and increase flexibility in its Launch and Re-entry Licensing Requirements.  Eleven FAA-licensed launches have taken place in 2020 and another 23 are scheduled to occur before the end of the year.  One of these will mark another milestone. It will be the first FAA-certified launch carrying astronauts into orbit.
 
These achievements are contributing to the American aerospace industry’s ongoing rocket renaissance which will boost innovation and economic growth.