Today the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing to review the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget request and to examine the agency's priorities and challenges. Testifying before the Subcommittee were Dr. George C. Nield, the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at FAA, and Captain Wilbur C. Trafton (USN ret.), the Chairman of FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) and the former Associate Administrator for Space Flight at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Acting Ranking Member of the Committee's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Jerry Costello (D-IL) said in his opening statement, "The successful growth of commercial human spaceflight activities can open new opportunities for commercial space. However, realizing and sustaining the promise of that industry will require close attention to safety."
The AST's statutory mission is to protect the public, property, and U.S. national security and foreign policy interests during commercial launch or reentry activities. Under current law, AST also is to encourage, facilitate, and promote the U.S. commercial space transportation industry. The Administration is requesting $16.7 million for the AST for FY 2013. This represents a 2.6 percent increase over the level appropriated for FY 2012.
Democratic Members expressed concern that several important policy issues need to be resolved, including how risks and responsibilities will be treated; how financial responsibilities will be handled; how safety regulations will be developed; whether AST's dual role as both a regulator and promoter of the commercial spaceflight industry is appropriate; and how partnerships between AST and other agencies such as NASA are being managed.
"As Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Aviation, I have a good appreciation of the expectations of the flying public. The public needs a clear understanding of the risks involved with commercial space transportation, and it will need to be convinced those risks are being effectively managed," said Mr. Costello. "AST will be at the center of establishing those expectations, as it will have a critical role in ensuring the safety of would-be space tourists, and potentially even of NASA astronauts or other spaceflight participants. I look forward to continuing updates from the AST as it prepares for future safety regulations."
After the hearing, Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) said, "Today's hearing was a good start to discussing AST's role in safety and licensing for the emerging commercial suborbital and orbital human spaceflight industry. However, I am concerned that we have yet to get answers to many questions that remain, including how safety regulations will be developed and whether the U.S. government should extend shared liability and indemnification protection to the commercial human spaceflight industry."