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SpaceX Launch on November 15, 2020

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

On November 15, 2020, four astronauts were launched aboard a U.S.-built rocket to dock with the International Space Station.  This mission included several “firsts.”  It was the first fully operational flight of the Space-X Dragon capsule.  A test mission took place in May.  This flight carried four astronauts, including Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker, Soichi Noguchi, of Japan’s space agency, and Victor Glover- the first African- American to become a full-time crewmember on the ISS.

This launch demonstrated the maturation of commercial space industry.  So far, in 2020, the FAA has licensed 31 space operations, and set a record in October with six FAA-licensed launches in a single month.  We expect about 56 more space operations in 2021. When space tourism begins, that number could rise to 100 operations per year.  That could, according to some estimates, drive the value of the new space economy to as high as a trillion dollars by 2040.

American know-how and innovation has powered this growth – including reusable rockets, air-launch systems and other technologies that are dramatically reducing the cost of getting to space.  I’m proud that the Department has made a significant contribution to commercial space innovation by finalizing the Streamlined Launch and Reentry Licensing Requirements rule to reduce unnecessary red tape.  Changes include letting space launch operators use a single license for multiple launches from multiple launch sites.  It also replaces prescriptive requirements with flexible, performance-based criteria. 

The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, led by Associate Administrator Wayne Monteith, has made organizational and procedural changes to enable innovation and improve safety.

Next year the FAA hopes to deploy a prototype of the Space Data Integrator, which will use real-time flight data from the spacecraft to better manage the National Airspace during launches and recoveries.  This should reduce the disruption of air traffic that takes place during launches and re-entries. 

And finally, 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 licensed across the United States- a sure sign of growth. And the FAA is currently working with applicants for additional sites.

The Department supports innovation in every mode of transportation, not just commercial space.  That includes encouraging the implementation of innovations that improve safety, such as positive train control system by railroads, driver-assist technology for cars and trucks, and drone operations in aviation.  So, many thanks to our colleagues at DOT who have worked so hard over the past four years to help bring about these important innovations that are helping our country remain a leader in innovation and safety.