Space Launch Traffic, Satellite Numbers Seen Rapidly Growing: BoA
Expect the rapid growth in space launches to continue in coming years, driven by NASA and national security demands as well as by “almost unquenchable demand” for data via satellite connectivity, Peter Knickerbocker, Bank of America space practice manager, said Wednesday at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce aerospace conference in Washington. He said as many as 40,000 satellites could be in orbit by 2030. Knickerbocker also said venture capital investing in space dropped 50% in 2022, and investors' confidence will rebound when they see investment success stories.
Eschewing turf battles, agencies with a role in space oversight "are trying to make your lives easier” with what is increasingly a multi-agency approach, Commerce Deputy Secretary Don Graves told a commercial space audience at the Chamber event. Graves said there's a federal recognition that for the U.S. to remain attractive as a place to apply for licensing, its regulatory processes "have to move as fast as possible." The National Space Council is putting together a uniform, across-government approach for oversight of launches and of operations in space, with that framework to be announced soon, Graves said. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel recapped recent space regulatory steps by the agency, such as its five-year deorbit rule for low earth orbit satellites. Numerous speakers discussed the expiration of the FAA Reauthorization Act at month’s end. A continuing resolution is likely, said Senate Space, Science and Innovation Subcommittee member John Hickenlooper, D-Colo.
Bipartisan comity over space is important for the U.S. maintaining leadership there, said Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Ted Cruz, R-Texas. "We have bipartisan bickering over virtually everything [and] it's a testament to the unique status space has enjoyed" that major space-related legislation gets passed on a bipartisan basis, he said.
Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance executives said launch service demand is burgeoning. ULA Vice President-Government and Commercial Programs Gary Wentz said it's expanding its East and West Coast launch capacity, with an aim of capacity for 25 launches a year. Blue Origin Vice President-Government Sales Lars Hoffman said the launcher has a backlog of business through the end of the decade and more than $10 billion in contracts.
To keep up with the increased cadence of commercial space launches, the FAA is trying to grow its staff but is competing with launch companies when attempting to lure engineers and flight safety analysts, said Kelvin Coleman, associate administrator-commercial space transportation. “It’s tough,” he said. The agency is looking to further streamline its launch licensing program with an electronic licensing platform, he said.
Commerce is in the midst of putting together aspects of its next-generation space traffic management system, the Traffic Coordination System for Space, such as the cloud and systems integration, said agency Office of Space Commerce Director Richard DalBello. Commerce also is working with NASA on trials of weaving commercial data into the government system to help supplement the available data, he said.
As NASA moves toward restarting missions to and on the moon, it expects it will be using commercial services in such areas as lunar surface communications -- “a 5G network on the moon,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy.
"Just a couple" of government-funded space rendezvous missions such as refueling or debris removal could greatly gin up commercial demand for such services, said Austin Link, co-founder of space tug startup Starfish Space.