The FAA this week took a step closer to setting up a central hub for the development of key commercial space transportation technologies such as space launch and traffic management applications and setting orbital safety standards.
The hub, known as the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation would have a $1 million yearly budget and tie together universities, industry players and the government for cost-sharing research and development. The FAA expects the center to be up and running this year.
The new center would be an offshoot of other FAA Centers for Excellence that through myriad partnerships develop and set all manner of aviation standards from aircraft noise and emissions to airport systems.
According to the FAA the center's purpose is to create a world-class consortium that will identify solutions for existing and anticipated commercial space transportation problems. The FAA expects the center to perform basic and applied research through a variety of analyses, development and prototyping activities.
The FAA said the center would have five central areas of work:
1. Space Launch Operations and Traffic Management: Research would include engineering, operations, management, and safety areas of study related to the overall commercial space traffic management systems and its interactions with the civil aviation traffic management systems. The center would look at: on-orbit operations emergency response, ground safety, spaceports, space traffic control and space environment.
2. Launch Vehicle Systems, Payloads, Technologies, and Operations: Here the center would look at launch vehicles, systems and payloads. Specific areas of research include safety management & engineering, flight safety analyses & computation, avionics, propulsion systems, sensors, software, vehicle design and payloads.
3. Commercial Human Space Flight: Research here can provide critical information needed to allow the ordinary citizen -- a person without the benefit of the physical, physiological, and psychological training and exposure to the space environment that the traditional astronaut has -- to travel to space safely, to withstand the extremes of the space environment, and to readjust normally after returning to Earth, the FAA stated.
4. Space Commerce: This category of research encompasses the subcategories of space business and economics, space law, space insurance, space policy, and space regulation. Research will include developing innovative and practical commercial uses of space; innovative business and marketing strategies for companies involved in commercial launch operations and related components and services; support of the US commercial space transportation industry's international perspective and competitiveness; and developing innovative financing for commercial launch activities.
5. Cross-Cutting Research Areas: The idea here is to look for ways to cut the costs of developing the four research topics mentioned above, focusing on safety, testing and training, the FAA stated.
As the commercial space industry slowly ramps up there will be a need for such centers, experts say. And there does seem to be growth for the industry. A study last year showed the total investment in that industry has risen by 20% since January 2008, reaching a total of $1.46 billion.
The study, done by researchers at the Tauri Group and commissioned by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation said revenues and deposits for commercial human spaceflight services, hardware, and support services has also grown, reaching a total of $261 million for the year 2008.
The Federation says that when you combine NASA, other government agencies, and commercial customers, the commercial orbital spaceflight industry is planning over 40 flights to orbit between now and 2014. The study was based on a survey of 22 companies engaged in commercial human spaceflight activities, including Armadillo Aerospace, Masten Space Systems, Scaled Composites, Space Adventures and Space X.
The FAA last November streamlined the environmental review part of permit applications for the launch and/or reentry of reusable suborbital rockets to help bolster a fledgling commercial space market.
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