Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) wants to elevate the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) by moving it back to the Transportation Department (DOT) and giving it assistant secretary leadership.
Bridenstine told an industry audience Wednesday that AST’s current placement in the FAA leads to battles for the focus of resources and finances and, thus, hurts the American space enterprise. He suggested President Donald Trump use an executive order like President Bill Clinton did in 1995 to elevate AST back to the department level and have it report to the transportation secretary.
“It is well past time for commercial space transportation to be a priority of the…federal government,” Bridenstine said at the FAA-Commercial Space Federation (CSF) conference in Washington. “It should be a national security priority.”
AST was established in 1984 as part of the Office of the Secretary of Transportation within DOT. AST was transferred to the FAA in November 1995 as the FAA’s only space-related line of business.
In short, AST was created with what is called the dual mandate: to both regulate and grow the commercial space transportation industry. Specifically, AST was established to: regulate the United States’ commercial space transportation industry, ensure compliance with international regulations and protect the public, property and national security. It was also tasked to encourage, facilitate and promote commercial space launches and reentries by the private sector, recommend appropriate changes in federal statutes and treaties and facilitate the strengthening and expansion of the United States space transportation infrastructure.
The AST issues FAA licenses and permits for commercial launches of orbital rockets and suborbital rockets. AST is headed by George Nield, who serves as associate administrator for Commercial Space Transportation.
Bridenstine called for better funding for AST as the industry is poised for growth in the near future. AST, he said, is already inundated with requests for licenses, permits, safety reviews, payload reviews and more. Bridenstine said he went to the House of Representatives floor a few years ago to ask for $250,000 in additional funding for AST. AST requested $19.8 million for fiscal year 2017. It requested $18.1 million in FY ’16. Its enacted budget for FY ’15 was $16.6 million.
This amendment, offered June 3, 2015, would have transferred $250,000 from the FAA’s finance and management activities to AST. This will was rolled into the FY ’16 omnibus appropriations bill, which was signed into law in December 2015.
Commercial Space Federation (CSF) President Eric Stallmer said the organization has not taken a stance on Bridenstine’s proposed move of elevating AST. Bridenstine is on the House Armed Services Sea Power and Projection Forces, and Strategic Forces Subcommittees and the House Science, Space and Technology (SST) Space Subcommittee.