Last week, we announced that the New Mexico State University would lead our new Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. The Obama Administration is committed to making sure the US remains the world leader in space development and exploration. And this center underscores that commitment.
With participants from academia, industry, and government, the center will ensure that the commercial space community can meet our current and future space transportation needs. And just in time, too, because the new National Space Policy recognizes the possibilities in commercial space transportation and seeks to make use of those commercial capabilities.
As FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said, “Commercial space flight is ready to play a greater role in the nation’s space program. Universities working with industry partners will fuel the research necessary to help keep us in the forefront of both technology and safety in space.”
Called the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation, the new center is expected to begin operations this month. The research and development efforts will include four major research areas:
- Space launch operations and traffic management;
- Launch vehicle systems, payloads, technologies, and operations;
- Commercial human space flight; and
- Space commerce (including space law, space insurance, space policy and space regulation).
Other colleges and universities selected for participation include: Stanford University, the Florida Institute of Technology, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, the Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion at Florida State University, the University of Colorado, and the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Test fitting the thermal protection panels that surround the thrusters on a simplified Dragon capsule constructed by SpaceX to provide the required mass, inertia, and aerodynamic characteristics that would simulate the launch of a fully-technical Dragon capsule. FAA approved a successful June 4 launch of the test vehicle.
And they've got their work cut out for them.
Regarding air traffic control, Scott Hubbard of Stanford said, "When you start having launches not once every few months or once a month but maybe once a day, you have to figure out how to control the nation's airspace."
And looking at crew and passenger safety, current rules have stringent medical and training requirements. That could shut out a large portion of the population. So, UTMB's James Vanderploeg is anxious to investigate the human factors of space travel: "How do you evaluate those individuals, what kind of medical monitoring might be required, what sort of conditions would be acceptable to fly?"
Tough nuts to crack, but I trust the FAA and the new Center for Excellence to ensure that flights are operated as safely as possible.
You may not know this, but the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation has been licensing, regulating and promoting the commercial space industry for years. Since the office was created in 1984, we have already issued licenses for more than 200 launches, licensed the operation of eight FAA-approved launch sites known as spaceports, and helped ensure that no loss of life or serious injury has been associated with these efforts.
The Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation will help us continue that safety streak.