The National Space Society vision is people living and working in space


Volume 3, No. 6                June 10, 1999
House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics hearing
on the Commercial Space Launch Industry

The chairman of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Dana Rohrabacher, presided over a rather sparse committee today, 6/10/99. The topic of the day, barriers to commercial space launch, came on the heels of the Cox report. The eye-opening investigation, commissioned by the House, detailed evidence of Chinese espionage and the transfer of sensitive nuclear and missile technologies from the U.S. to China. In order to help prevent this from happening again the commission recommended an increased launch capability within the U.S. and the expansion of the commercial space launch capacity.

The chairman expressed four issues of concern in regards to the commercial space environment which he plans to address in the near future. The first issue was indemnification. In this regard he mentioned he intends to introduce a bill which would include a five year renewal to indemnify the aerospace industry. He also emphasized that he would eventually introduce a more expansive bill regarding indemnification. The second issue was in regards to the modernization and privatization of national launch ranges. Third, he wanted to examine how the government buys transportation services. Finally, he wanted to discuss a bill which would supply tax incentives for private investment in space and space related technologies.

Mr. Edward A. O'Connor, Jr., Executive Director of the Spaceport Florida Authority

Mr. O'Connor stated that current launch ranges have many deficiencies. Many of these stem from the fact that the Air Force, which controls the ranges, has not been spending as much as they should on updating and maintaining the ranges.

He pointed out that there is little incentive for the Air Force to pay for upgrading a launch range which is primarily used by others. He emphasized that there are many small aerospace companies which have been turned away by the cost and hassle of utilizing existing U.S. launch ranges, and in turn have chosen to look for launch sites in other nations, i.e. China. In order to help reverse this trend, and to improve the situation for all of the industry, new transportation and infrastructure are needed.

Finally, he pointed out that there has been a lack of executive leadership. One way to improve this, he suggested, is by reinstating the National Space Council or a similar body.

The Honorable Andrea Seastrand, Executive Director of the California Space and Technology Alliance
She described what has been happening in the state of California as far as the aerospace industry is concerned. She pointed out that California developed a list of priorities which should be addressed to help eliminate barriers to space launch, specifically, 1) the need for a significant revision of the Commercial Space Launch Act, 2) creating awareness and support among federal policy makers, 3) increasing funding for more efficient, cost-effective launch infrastructure, 4) streamlining federal regulations, 5) creating an educated workforce, and 6) increasing public awareness.

She also mentioned that, through meetings among stakeholders, California identified seven critical issues which need to be addressed. These issues include extension of federal indemnification for licensed launch activities, improved opportunities for use of federal government property and services in support of commercial launch activities at a predictable price, and revision of the terms "direct cost" and "launch" in the Commercial Space Launch Act.

She also identified issues of secondary importance, one of these being the creation of a space advocate in the White House, (which may or may not be similar to the National Space Council).

Mr. Bruce Mahone, Director, Space Policy Aerospace Industries Association
He testified that the biggest concern for the aerospace community is funding for research and development. He pointed out that although funding for R&D has increased nationwide, government funding for research and development among the aerospace community has declined. In fact, R&D funding for the aerospace community has been reduced back to the levels it experienced during the Carter administration. However, under Carter for every $1 the industry spent on R&D the government spent $4. Currently, for every $1 the industry spends the government spend $2. He warned that if this trend continues the strength of the aerospace industry will wane.

Finally, he discussed some of the implications of a continued reduction in funding. He stated that the U.S. will experience a loss in the national leadership in Aerospace, an increase in national security costs, a "brain drain" of qualified individuals who decide to employ their talents elsewhere, and an inability to attain the revolutionary technological breakthroughs which are so necessary to reduce environmental costs and the costs of propulsion, guidance, and materials.

Dr. Jerry Grey, Director, Aerospace and Science Policy, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
He identified three barriers to space launch: 1) an insufficient U.S. market to support industry expansion, 2) the high cost and failure rates of current and projected launch services, and 3) the large investment and economic risk in developing new launch systems.

Grey offered three avenues by which the current space launch situation could be remedied by government policy. These included governmental purchasing of all launch services from commercial providers, (with some exceptions), more effective implementation of current export control legislation on satellites and space launch services, and increased budgetary support of generic (R&T base) and focused R&T programs in space transportation, especially propulsion.

He also mentioned actions which the aerospace industry could take to rectify the current space launch situation, such as development of industry-generated standards and improved interaction with the non-aerospace industry.

Finally, Grey offered methods of improvement which the industry and the government could engage in jointly. They included orbital degree mitigation practices, the establishment of a joint mechanism to encourage the launch of secondary payloads, cooperation between aeronautics and space development organizations, and the transfer of government developed technologies to the private sector.

Grey concluded his comments by stating that the government can also offer incentives for industry to help improve launch systems. One such example was providing industry access to government facilities.

Ms. Laura Montgomery, Attorney-Advisor, Office of the Chief Counsel, Federal Aviation Administration
On the regulatory front, she argued that the commercial space transportation licensing regulations that were issued in 1988 are in need of being updated. Specifically, she stated "a good regulatory process prevents unnecessary barriers from being created in the first place."

Montgomery mentioned that one "possible future challenge to commercial space launch is the potential for conflict between the needs of commercial aviation for unimpeded use of the national airspace system (NAS) and the promise of more numerous and diverse commercial space activities." The FAA is currently working to solve this problem.

The FAA's goal, in regards to space launch, "is to create a seamless, integrated Space and Air Traffic Management System to allow the efficient use of the NAS by all operators with as little impact on each other as possible."

Finally, she mentioned that the FAA is working hard to be prepared for evolving needs of the space launch industry. For example, the FAA has established an inspector training program to prepare for the increased role which the FAA will have to play in future commercial launch activities; especially those which occur at locations other than federal ranges.


This capsule was prepared by Adam Herringa and Miles Swanson; participants in the 1999 NSSHQ summer intern program.

About the NSS Capital Capsule
The Capsule is a timely report of highlights and statements from Capitol Hill hearings and other events involving space issues. The Capsule and all others published to date are available online on the NSS website.

The National Space Society is an independent, nonprofit space advocacy group with headquarters in Washington, DC. Its 20,000 members and 75 chapters actively promote the creation of a spacefaring nation.


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