CAPE CANAVERAL—The U.S. Department of Transportation, which already has an office devoted to commercial space transportation, is creating an Office of Spaceports as well as a new research enterprise focused on commercial space, safety and innovation, Secretary Elaine Chao said April 24.                                                                        

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) has “performed well to date, but in order to prepare for the future it will be reconstituted under the leadership of Gen.[Wayne] Monteith to maximize the efficiencies of the new streamlined rule,” Chao said during a ceremony at NASA’s Kennedy Center in Florida. 

Monteith, the commander of the 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral AFS, became AST’s new chief on Jan. 20.

The FAA on April 15 published a notice of proposed new requirements to streamline launch and re-entry licensing, safety requirements and the terms and conditions of a vehicle operator license. Comments are due June 14.

Chao said that in addition to a reorganization of AST, the newly created Office of Spaceports will “seek to remove barriers to competitiveness and help ensure that the U.S. leads the world in space infrastructure.”

DOT is also establishing a new research initiative focused on safety and innovation at the agency’s Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. Partners in the project include Florida Tech, the University of Central Florida and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, all in Central Florida. The research will focus on regulatory streamlining, space policy, law, finance and advancing commercial space.

“The global space economy’s value is approaching $400 billion a year, and is expected to increase significantly in coming years,” Chao said. “America’s innovative commercial space sector is positioned to win an impressive share of that market.” 

Chao said the impending announcement of an additional $292 million in funding to improve port facilities at coastal seaports represents money that could be used for spaceports. Of the total, $92 million is reserved for the nation’s 15 busiest ports, three of which are in Florida.

 DOT also has an ongoing, $900 million Build Transportation grants program that could also be applied to some non-federal infrastructure that supports space launch operations. Applications are due July 15.