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U.S. Introduces New Licensing Rule in Commercial Space Transportation

Space Transportation

The United States is leading the way to a new era of commercial space transportation with a final rule that streamlines the licensing process for private sector launch and reentry operations.

“Innovation in commercial space transportation is increasing dramatically, and policy needs to keep up. This rule will help us to prepare for future U.S. leadership in commercial space transportation by facilitating the continued economic growth and innovation of the American aerospace industry and ensuring the highest level of public safety,” said the U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The new rule took effect on March 21 and arose from a directive of the National Space Council to encourage American leadership in space commerce. The rule aims to support greater innovation, flexibility and efficiency in commercial space operations. It also seeks to keep pace with the dramatic increase in the $400 billion global space industry that is expected to generate revenues of $1.1 trillion or more by 2040.

The rule streamlines and modernizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commercial space launch and reentry licensing regulations by eliminating obsolete requirements, replacing most prescriptive requirements with performance-based criteria and reducing duplicative regulations. 

It also establishes a single set of licensing and safety regulations for several types of commercial space operations and vehicles. For example, one license could support multiple launches and reentries at multiple locations—a game-changing innovation that will make this process more efficient.

“With the streamlined rule we can make sure launch vehicles aren’t tethered to the launch pad with red tape and at the same time protect public safety during commercial space operations,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson.

The number of FAA-licensed commercial space launches has dramatically accelerated from only one in 2011 to a record 39 in 2020—a 3800% increase in just ten years. For 2021, the FAA is forecasting 50 or more FAA-licensed launch and reentry operations.

The new rule will better fit today's constantly evolving aerospace industry whose technological advancements are lowering the cost of launch operations and opening new markets for satellites, space tourism and potentially suborbital point-to-point regional and intercontinental travel.

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