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Statement by Rep. LoBiondo Hearing on FAA Oversight of Commercial Space Transportation

Press Release From: U.S. House of Representatives
Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ)
Subcommittee on Aviation
Hearing on “FAA Oversight of Commercial Space Transportation”

June 22, 2016
Opening Statement
(Remarks as Prepared)

Today we will be examining the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight of commercial space transportation. We are at an exciting time in the aviation world. In the past few years, this committee has met regularly to discuss the advent of drones into the National Airspace System, and we are here this morning to talk about the burgeoning industry of commercial space transportation.

Before we begin, I’d like to note that yesterday, the FAA released its long overdue final rule on small drones. Although we are continuing to review it in detail, I am pleased that the rule focuses on safely integrating drones in operation today while providing flexibility to permit more advanced types of operations as technology improves.

It has been seven years since this subcommittee last held a hearing dedicated to today’s topic. Since that time, the Space Shuttle has been retired, leaving the United States without a domestic option to transport humans into space and requiring NASA to pay millions of dollars per seat on Russian spacecraft.

Private industry, with the support of FAA and NASA, is working to fill this transportation gap while developing new and innovative methods to transport passengers and cargo safely and efficiently into space. The result has been the domination of the commercial space industry by the United States in virtually all areas.

United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, provides valuable and highly reliable launch services to the US government. Orbital ATK has operated five successful unmanned supply missions to the International Space Station, and we wish them well on their launch two weeks from today. SpaceX and Blue Origin are leading pioneers in the effort to bring down the cost of commercial space launches by reusing launch vehicles. Virgin Galactic, World View Enterprises, and XCOR seek to offer new and exciting experiences and bring space travel and tourism to the general public.

These companies and many others contribute to a highly innovative industry, advancing U.S. leadership in the field. I believe we are witnessing another major change in transportation, one that will match the energy and enthusiasm of the early days of aviation barnstorming.

These advances require the close cooperation and oversight of FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, or AST. AST’s mission is to protect the public, property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States during commercial launch or reentry activities, and to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial space transportation.

Commercial space transportation is still an inherently risk-filled endeavor; our hearing summary outlines two specific accidents, but there have been others. We want to ensure that AST and industry learn from these incidents in order to lay the foundation for a future commercial space transportation safety regulatory framework.

In November 2015, Congress passed the “U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act,” which has helped position industry and the United States to further expand and capitalize on our Nation’s leadership in this field. Our witnesses are here today to provide a better sense of the state of the industry following enactment of this law and to learn about any opportunities and challenges related to commercial space transportation.

Though this is a newer topic to me and to many on the Subcommittee, much of the FAA’s work in this area is performed in my district at the FAA’s premier technical facility in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. There, private companies are working with the FAA on a number of projects, including modeling debris fields, simulating launches and reentries utilizing the expertise of air traffic controllers, and testing communications systems between spacecraft and air traffic control. We appreciate all of the work that industry and the FAA are doing at the FAA Tech Center in order to continue advancing safe commercial space transportation.

As this subcommittee continues to assess the current state of the commercial space transportation industry, it is important that industry engages with members of this panel. I would also encourage all Members to reach out to our distinguished witnesses and others in commercial space transportation to learn more about how this transportation sector impacts each and every congressional district.

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