Aeronautics and Space Report of the President FY 1995 Activities


Space Flight and Space Technology

Commercial Development and Regulation of Space Technology

Twelve licensed commercial space launches were conducted by U.S. launch operators during FY 1995, more than twice the number during the previous fiscal year and more than any year since commercial launching began in this country in 1989. These launches were licensed by DoT's OCST, which has the responsibility for overseeing this industry, particularly with regard to safety. This brought to 52 the number of U.S. commercial launches conducted since 1989. Of these launches, 24 have carried foreign or internationally owned payloads, many of them satellites bought from U.S. manufacturers. This combination has brought more than $2.5 billion to the U.S. balance of trade.

Since OCST's establishment in 1984, its responsibilities have been to license commercial space launches and the operation of launch facilities to protect the public health, safety of property, national security, and foreign policy interests of the United States, as well as to encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space launches by the private sector. OCST has continued to grant licenses only to launch providers that demonstrate compliance with all safety regulations and have adequate insurance or financial resources to cover the maximum probable loss from a launch accident. OCST also is responsible for regulating the operation of commercial launch sites, such as those under development in Alaska, California, Florida, New Mexico, and Virginia.

In FY 1995, OCST issued a renewal of the operator license to Martin Marietta for Atlas launches and amended the operator license issued to McDonnell Douglas for Delta launches from Cape Canaveral. The Martin Marietta license subsequently was transferred to the merged Lockheed Martin Company. These actions extended the authority of the companies to conduct their respective licensed activities at Cape Canaveral for 2 years. OCST also extended the duration of several existing launch licenses to accommodate launch delays.

OCST issued a payload determination for the Multiple Experiment to Earth Orbit and Return (METEOR) reentry vehicle, in association with the license previously issued to EER Systems for the launch of a Conestoga vehicle from Wallops Island, VA. METEOR was the first attempt at ground-initiated reentry of an orbital spacecraft by a commercial operator. OCST worked to ensure that the reentry would be safe. At end of FY 1995, METEOR was awaiting an early launch.

During FY 1995, OCST processed more than a dozen maximum-probable-loss determinations, based on the actual risks associated with proposed launch activities. This activity was conducted under the amended Commercial Space Launch Act, which establishes comprehensive financial responsibility requirements for commercial launch activities licensed by OCST.

OCST supported research to revise the baseline assessment documents for each of the Federal launch ranges to reflect organizational and other changes. The revision for NASA's Wallops Flight Facility was nearly complete, and the one for the Cape Canaveral Air Station was under way at the end of FY 1995.

OCST began revising its programmatic environmental assessment (EA) for launch operations to reflect the introduction of new launch technologies and other changes. The EA originally was designed to make compliance with National Environmental Protection Act documentation easier for both the Government and industry. In FY 1995, OCST decided to adapt the EA into a more thorough programmatic environmental impact statement to support the environmental documentation requirements for licensing the operations of new launch sites.

OCST began a program to encourage and facilitate the development of voluntary industry standards for launch safety. The attempt to get away from military standards makes the development of voluntary standards more urgent. OCST also encouraged industry to address issues related to the certification of RLV's, including SSTO vehicles.

To support pending and anticipated applications for licenses to launch large constellations of communications satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO), OCST researched collision risk and the effects of service disruptions caused by collision.

Representatives of OCST participated in various panels and forums concerning new launch systems, including RLV's, in anticipation of the regulatory issues they will present. OCST personnel also examined the possibility of employing GPS and other technologies to reduce tracking costs and augment automated range safety operations. Because of several important developments in the commercial space launch industry, OCST regulatory and policy responsibilities broadened during FY 1995. These factors include the following:

  • New vehicle technology developments, such as RLV's and reentry vehicles, that are capable of transporting a payload from orbit back to a designated site on Earth

  • Strategic partnerships between the United States and foreign launch companies, such as Lockheed Martin and its International Launch Systems Division formed by Lockheed and two Russian companies

  • The development of new LEO constellations of small communications satellites

  • The expected impacts of International Telecommunications Union deliberations on spectrum allocations for radio frequencies

  • Policy development and analysis for international commercial launch trade agreements (for example, Russia, China, and Ukraine)

  • New entrants in the international launch market, such as Ukraine, Japan, and India.

A major priority for OCST during this fiscal year was the updating of its original 1988 regulations. OCST drafted financial responsibility regulations and regulations governing commercial launch operators' licenses. In the spirit of "reinventing" Government, OCST's proposed new regulations were "reengineered" for flexibility, clarity, and consistency. These regulations should ensure greater involvement of the public and coordination with local, State, and other Federal agencies, while ensuring fairness to small and large businesses alike. In addition, OCST introduced a new, streamlined automated licensing application process. All of these factors are expected to bring about better, more effective regulations, which will minimize the regulatory burden for the commercial launch licensee.

A major policy accomplishment by OCST in FY 1995 was the development of the Implementation Plan for the Presidential National Space Transportation Policy that was adopted the previous fiscal year. OCST participated in an interagency working group, led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in developing a National Space Policy. OCST also provided sustained, indepth support for and participation in five interagency working groups initiated by OSTP for the purpose of developing specific sections of the new National Space Policy.

During FY 1995, OCST staff served on the Common Spacelift Requirements Working Group, which prepared a report outlining space launch requirements for commercial, civil, military, and intelligence users. This working group also developed a Coordinated Technology Plan for space launch requirements. OCST supported several other OSTP initiatives, including a working group on transition strategies for the end of the century, which focused on the future of commercial launch activities in a free and open international market without the benefit of trade agreements with countries that are in transition from command to market economies.

The National Environmental, Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), an NOAA unit, has been charged with administering a 1994 Presidential policy on commercial remote-sensing that allows private firms to build and operate high-resolution satellite imaging systems. NESDIS personnel issued licenses in FY 1995 to AstroVision, GDE Systems, and Motorola to build remote-sensing satellite systems.

At NASA, the Commercial Space Product Development program flew payloads on four of six Shuttle flights in FY 1995. These payloads included 16 flight experiments using Shuttle middeck lockers, Spacehab, and the second flight of the Wake Shield Facility. These research activities provided information for product developments in several industrial areas, including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, agriculture, ceramics, and metallurgy. Protein crystals grown in space allowed the characterization of alpha-interferon and Factor D, which could result in advanced drugs, while the results of the encapsulation of pancreatic islets could lead to new treatments for diabetes. The second flight of the Wake Shield Facility demonstrated epitaxial growth in a free-flying mode, obtained data characterizing the wake environment, and grew two types of epitaxial semiconductor films. The flight of Spacehab-3 included commercial experiments involving protein crystal growth, metal sintering, immune systems diagnostics, fluids mixing, biomedical applications, new polymer development, and plant growth. In protein crystal experiments, an attempt to regulate the growth of the alpha-interferon crystal successfully yielded a more effective formulation for potential pharmaceutical use, while work on polymers could result in clinical trials of new contact lenses developed by Paragon Vision Sciences Corporation. The Eclipse liquid metal sintering experiment on Spacehab-3 processed samples for a full hour—a duration essential for providing the defect-trapping information to enable comparisons with sintering processes on Earth. The first completely self-contained, space plant growth chamber was demonstrated, and wheat and mustard plants were shown to have growth patterns similar to those achieved in Earth's natural environment, thus validating chamber performance.

Also in FY 1995, NASA named the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) as the recipient for the Launch Voucher Demonstration program under the Office of Space Access and Technology's auspices. UAH selected the commercial vendor EER Systems on a competitive basis. NASA managers selected six industrial experiments for this flight.


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Curator: Lillian Gipson
Last Updated: September 5, 1996
For more information contact Steve Garber, NASA History Office,
sgarber@hq.nasa.gov