FAA launches new center on commercial rocket travel

Monday - 8/23/2010, 9:30am EDT

Dr. George Nield, associate administrator, commercial space transportation, FAA,

Click below to hear the interview

Download mp3

By Vyomika Jairam
Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

U.S. space exploration of the future will depend heavily on commercial rocket lift capability. That's the vision of the Obama administration, and it's a break from the past. In the latest step of that strategy, the Transportation Department has established a new Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. The Center's work will focus on establishing standardization in commercial transport and industry-wide safety

"It is very important, because our country's space program is going to be facing some very dramatic changes in just the next few years," Dr. George Nield, associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the FAA, said.

The nation's space agenda has always been under the purview of the government, Nield explained, but with the planned retirement of the space shuttle, and future use of commercial rockets to deliver supplies to the international space station, there are changes in the role of the government.

"We are going to see private industry becoming a key player in both sub-orbital space flight, and in low-earth orbit," Nield said. "So our new center of excellence for commercial space transportation has the potential to be a major contributor to both of those efforts."

The Center will be lead by New Mexico State University, but will be joined by a larger group of universities, companies and federal agencies, including Stanford University and NASA.

So where does the FAA fit into all of this?

"To insure public safety during commercial launch and re-entry activities, and to encourage, facilitate and promote commercial space transportation," Nield said. "It is a risky business but we have a good safety record to date and we certainly hope to continue that in the future."

Over the past 20 years, Nield said that there have been more that more than 200 safe commercial launches, so the Center is really a drive to put the government in a secondary, supervisory role.

"We're really looking to industry to take the lead and take advantage of their experience and their ability to bring creative solutions to some of these problems," Nield said. "Hopefully not only increase the safety but to lower the cost of some of these activities to open up access to space."