Commercial Space Transportation: Industry Trends - spaceref
What GAO Found: Since a peak of 22 U.S. commercial space launches in fiscal year 1998, the annual number of launches generally ranged from 4 to 9 launches.
The number of commercial space launches is expected to increase in the next 8 years as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to procure 51 launches from commercial cargo companies to resupply the International Space Station.
FAA also expects space tourism to begin in the next several years, although no companies have applied for a FAA launch license and companies developing these services have experienced delays in the past. FAA faces several challenges overseeing the commercial space launch industry. For example, FAA expects its licensing and oversight responsibilities to expand in anticipation of an increased private sector role, suggesting that FAA and Congress must remain vigilant so that potential conflicts in FAA's safety oversight and industry promotion roles do not occur.
Also, as the commercial space launch industry grows and FAA continues to implement NextGen--FAA's effort to develop a more automated, aircraft-centered, satellite-based air traffic management system--the agency will have to manage a mix of earth-based aircraft and space vehicles. FAA has begun to consider integrating spaceflight operations into NextGen. In past work, GAO recommended that FAA take several actions to improve its oversight of commercial space launches, including monitoring indicators of space tourism safety. FAA has taken some steps to address the recommendations.
Also, GAO's preliminary work has raised questions about the soundness of the method currently used by FAA to calculate the amount of insurance that launch companies must purchase: FAA has not updated crucial components, such as the cost of a casualty, and its method is outdated, according to insurance industry officials and risk modeling experts.
If the current indemnification policy is eliminated, the actual effects on the global competitiveness of the U.S. commercial space launch industry are unknown, in part, because it is not known whether launch customers might choose foreign launch companies over U.S. companies. However, launch companies said that the lack of government indemnification would decrease their global competitiveness by increasing launch costs.
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