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Highlights

Since the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported on the commercial space launch industry in 2006, the industry has evolved and moved further toward space tourism. Commercial space tourism promises to make human space travel available to the public for the first time. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversees the safety of commercial space launches, licensing and monitoring the safety of such launches and of spaceports (sites for launching spacecraft), and FAA promotes the industry. FAA is also responsible for overseeing the safety of space tourism, but it may not regulate crew and passenger safety before 2012 except in response to high-risk incidents, serious injuries, or fatalities. This testimony addresses (1) recent trends in the commercial space launch industry, (2) challenges that FAA faces in overseeing the industry, and (3) emerging issues that will affect the federal role. This statement is based on GAO's October 2006 report on commercial space launches, updated with information GAO gathered from FAA, the Department of Commerce, and industry experts in November 2009 on industry trends and recent FAA actions. In past work, GAO recommended that FAA take several actions to improve its oversight of commercial space launches, including assessing its future resource needs. FAA has taken some steps to address the recommendations.

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