Transportation Department official suggests industry help pay for FAA commercial space office | Space

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WASHINGTON — A top Department of Transportation official suggested the launch industry should help pay for additional resources for the Federal Aviation Administration’s commercial space office.

Speaking at a virtual meeting of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) Nov. 8, Polly Trottenberg, deputy secretary of transportation, all but rejected calls from industry to sharply increase the budget of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, or AST, to deal with growing levels of launch activity.

At an Oct. 18 hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee, industry witnesses recommended a significant increase in the budget for that office, which received nearly $37.6 million in fiscal year 2023, to hire more personnel to handle launch and reentry licensing. One witness, Bill Gerstenmaier of SpaceX, specifically recommended doubling the office’s budget.

Asked about increasing AST’s budget, Trottenberg said there were competing priorities elsewhere in the FAA, noting that the aviation did not receive as much support in last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law as other modes of transportation. “I don’t think we made the commensurate investments on the aviation side,” she said, including in “the bread-and-butter systems of the FAA.”

She proposed that it may be time for industry to contribute some portion of additional revenues needed for enhancing AST. “We’re an agency that has the ability to generate revenue and I think that’s going to be a question for this industry,” she said, adding that she was offering her own opinion and not that of the department itself.

While the FAA does generate revenue from user fees for aviation, it has not generally collected any such fees for launch licensing. She returned to it later in the meeting when another COMSTAC member noted the relatively small size of the AST budget relative to the overall FAA budget. The FAA…

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