Commercial Spaceflight Federation President Testifies In Senate Science And Space Subcommittee Hearing
The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space held a hearing entitled “Risks, Opportunities, and Oversight of Commercial Space" Wednesday morning. Full committee chair John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-WV) said that the commercial sector is now looking at space transportation and the market that may emerge as the next big business opportunity. "That’s what this hearing will consider here today," Rockefeller said. "NASA’s purpose in the development of domestic commercial space flight capabilities is to lower the cost of getting crew and cargo back and forth to the International Space Station."
Rockefeller (pictured) noted that NASA is required by law to stop purchasing Russian Soyuz seats to get to the International Space Station as soon as there is a domestic capability. "What is to stop a company from turning around and charging the government a fortune to access our space station? Much has been said about not wanting the government to pick winners and losers, which is why we should not lock in a dominant player at this stage of the game," he said. "Key to the premise of competition, however, is whether or not a viable market for commercial space emerges beyond the federal government.
"As these companies work to attract private investment, we hear repeatedly that they need certainty and stability both for investors and the emerging market; however, “certainty” and “stability” only seem to apply in certain situations. Many companies have advocated that extending the government’s indemnification of third party liability adds certainty and stability; however, some of these same companies argue that FAA regulation at this time does not."
Among those providing testimony at the hearing was Michael Lopez-Alegria, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. Among the topics discussed at the hearing were risk-sharing, regulation, NASA’s Commercial Crew and the International Space Station.
“Having commanded the International Space Station, I share with this committee an understanding of its great value to America and to the world," Lopez-Alegria (pictured in NASA photo aboard the ISS) said in his opening statement. "It represents an unparalleled capability for space-based research and technology demonstration, but its full utilization potential is dependent on robust cargo and crew transportation.”
One of the other witnesses, William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of Human Exploration and Operations at NASA, testified to NASA’s plans for the forthcoming commercial crew seats. “We would definitely increase the crew size on ISS to seven crew. We currently have six crew members . . . . The space station was designed to operate at a full complement of crew of seven. We think that will increase the research capability on board station and allow us to do more National Lab research and be more effective in utilizing the space station,” he said.
Commercial Spaceflight Federation Executive Director, Alex Saltman said after the hearing, “We are thrilled to hear the comments of Mr. Gerstenmaier today confirming NASA’s intent to fully utilize the International Space Station. The addition of a seventh crew member to ISS will significantly increase the science, research and education capabilities of the station. Several witnesses at the hearing, as well as Senator Nelson, extolled the research potential of the Station to create new markets and innovative capabilities in many business sectors. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation looks forward to working closely with NASA and Congress to ensure the full utilization and extended life of ISS through future commercial crew services, and supports the highest possible funding for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program so that NASA can obtain these services in a timely manner.”
But Gerstenmaier was also chastised by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the ranking Republican on the committee, who said she hopes that there will no longer be budget proposals from the President, "whoever that will be next year, that will appear to cut back on the future and fund the present because we have an authorization bill that assures both, we support both.”
“I don’t want to see next year another instance of what we saw this year, Mr. Gerstenmaier," she said, "and I just hope that we can see that commitment on the part of NASA and the President’s OMB and believe me, I didn’t like what OMB did in the last administration or the one before that either, so I am equal in my disappointment in this commitment, but since you’re here now, I do hope you will assure that the budget that comes from the President’s office will reflect what both you and I have said is our goal and I know that the two Senators here agree.”