The core of my motivation in writing is not only to examine major issues in the commercial space transportation industry, but to also learn along with you. The emerging commercial space industry is fascinating. It is about much more than space.
This week I have been working on a spaceport panel for the commercial space conference held here in October. There are over 43,000 airports in the world. By contrast, there are 24 four space launch sites or spaceports, in the world. Less than half are working on human spaceflight. In 1946, the United States became the first space faring nation when we sent a rocket to space from White Sands Proving Grounds.
Esrange Space Center in Sweden, is the northern launch range for Europe. Like White Sands Missile Range it is operated by the government. The Swedish Space Research Institute is a global leader in space research. Sweden is considered the innovation center of Europe. Their space research capacity has enabled global technical and educational leadership despite their isolation. Sweden is considering another leadership role. This time, it will be a public private partnership. Sound familiar?
Sweden is developing a commercial spaceport. Since 2008, the members of the Swedish spaceport team have been coming to the ISPCS conference. It is clear, the technical difficulties of getting to humans to space safely are only some of the barriers spaceports are facing these days. The regulatory environment or its absence is one of the challenges impacting the startup of the commercial space industry.
Big picture, if the regulatory environment is unpredictable, not only governments but investors will stay on the sidelines. Investors do not like uncertainty. In Europe, there is no regulatory agency setting policy, regulations or standards for human commercial space transportation. That is a problem for Europe. Europe is lagging because it is risk adverse in the current economic climate. Yet, they are bullish on space transportation as a business. The European Space Agency is going to upgrade their heavy lift Arianne 5 and continue to launch satellites. They are not going to get into human rated vehicles now.
Contrast that decision, with the recent success in the public private partnership between NASA and SpaceX. In 2008, under George W. Bush, we started the Commercial Crew Development program. In partnership with NASA, SpaceX built the Dragon capsule and launched it on the Falcon 9 to the space station. Leaders manage risk, they don’t avoid it. Long term, human space transportation is an economic win.
Without humans in the loop, commercial space transportation will be as it has been. Only 10 humans on average go to space a year. When humans go to space they bring other humans. Humans need life support when they travel, food, water, air, and cargo. Transporting humans and cargo is what the ground, sea, rail air and space transportation industries have at their core.
The International Airline Trade Association (IATA) members include all the major commercial and cargo airlines. Their mission is to advocate for understanding the global economic benefits of air transportation. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is a similar professional society for the space industry. These professional societys are good for business. Once there is an ongoing supply and demand cycle, the market becomes a controller and the regulatory environment works not only on safety but also on issues that keep the industry viable.
The time has come for the space industry to take on human space transportation. New Mexico can be in a leadership role. It is incumbent on our elected leaders to understand the importance of indemnifying commercial launch providers at the spaceport.
The United States established the Office of Commercial Space Transportation in 1984. Their role has been to help our nation encourage, facilitate and promote commercial space transportation. On June 6th, Associate Administrator of the FAA AST, George Nield, addressed the House Committee on Science on continuing indemnification for the commercial launch industry. He states, “The continuously emerging …commercial launch industry requires a stable risk-sharing program with continuing government indemnification in order to plan future operations and encourage investment…the need for us to address manageable risk through the conditional payment of excess claims is wise public policy for this country.” This speech is well written. It is fascinating reading. Why, because we are working on this issue in real-time in New Mexico. This speech is another tool to increase understanding of our country’s strong advocacy for what we are doing in New Mexico.