Congress looks to boost commercial space transport

Congress looks to boost commercial space transport
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Lawmakers on Tuesday held a hearing on commercial space transportation with executives testifying on ways to boost their growing industry.

The hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation comes as the Federal Aviation Administration is in the midst of a review to reform its regulation of the industry.

Rep. Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoLoBiondo launches consulting firm Live coverage: House elects new Speaker as Dems take charge The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — George H.W. Bush lies in state | NRCC suffers major hack | Crunch-time for Congress MORE (R-N.J.), the chairman of the subcommittee, praised the "tremendous growth for the industry" and FAA efforts to streamline regulations.

"There have been more FAA licensed launches in this first half of 2018 than there were in all of 2016," he said in his opening remarks.

But Democrats on the committee questioned if the one-year time frame for FAA to review its regulations was enough.

"I've been on this committee a long time and I have never seen regulations done in one year," said Del. Eleanor Holmes NortonEleanor Holmes NortonDems push to include contractor back pay in any shutdown deal Dem bill would let essential workers collect unemployment during shutdown DC and Puerto Rico share the long-ignored dream of statehood MORE (D-D.C.).

Some industry representatives also questioned the one-year review and its effect on safety rules.

"Safety is always going to take precedence over any timeline," said Captain Tim Canoll from the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA). "There is no way to avoid that."

"The FAA needs time to do their safety data analysis so they propose rules they're comfortable will meet the safety standard be it in segregated airspace or an integrated air space," he added.

Others expressed concerns that stringent FAA safety rules would make it harder for companies to innovate.

Caryn Schenewerk, senior counsel at SpaceX, said FAA's approach could "limit innovation that could improve safety."   

"We're talking about the application of a performance-based system where you set the level of safety ... and then allowing operators to have flexibility with regard to the technology they use and the operational constraints they use to achieve that level of safety," Schenewerk explained

Industry executives also pointed to a number of new technologies that could improve safety.

One such feature is the use of information technology to predict possible debris from a launch.

Audrey Powers, deputy general counsel from Blue Origin, a private aerospace company, urged the committee to give the industry room to address safety issues with new solutions.

"I think it's very important that tool development be the focus because we are smart enough to solve this problem," Powers told lawmakers.