FAA to expand role in regulating commercial space flights under new proposal

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The Biden administration has issued a proposal to split control of private space businesses between the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Commerce (DOC), in response to the evolving landscape of commercial space travel. 

“US industry leads the world in bringing the benefits of space to Earth,” Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves said in a press statement on November 15, 2023. “This legislation ensures that our government will build a regulatory environment that supports commercial expansion to benefit all Americans.” 

The new rules would see the DOT, through the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation, expand its oversight beyond spacecraft launch and reentry. Under the proposed plan, the FAA will oversee a broader range of human spaceflight activities, including commercial space stations and lunar missions. It will also implement an “in-space transportation license”, which will govern the transport of items through space and to the lunar surface. 

Simultaneously, the DOC’s Office of Space Commerce would broaden its jurisdiction to include unmanned spacecraft that are not regulated by the DOT. This would include the burgeoning field of in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing (ISAM), as well as debris removal.  

Furthermore, the Office of Space Commerce is also developing a civil space traffic coordination system, with the possibility of taking over this responsibility from the US Defense Department.   

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