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The Evolution of Commercial Space Flight (February 2023): Conclusion

By Brian Shmaefsky


Commercial space flight is still in its infancy. Standard definitions of the various types of space vehicles, spaceports, and flight missions are still being established in 2022 despite the numerous commercial space flights that have already taken place. ASTM International, previously known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, is working to ensure that commercial space companies will participate in developing international voluntary consensus standards for all aspects of commercial space flight operations. Some of these new standards are similar to the ones used by airline industries, as explained in the Annual Book of ASTM Standards Volume 15.09. This book (one of 80 volumes issued annually) covers a variety of technical aspects of space flight including pilot education and training. In 2016, ASTM International established its Committee F47 on Commercial Spaceflight especially to relate its activities to the privatization and commercialization of space flight. Robert Zubrin, in The Case for Space, expresses optimism that the new space race will provide valuable services to people globally. Some of the benefits he discusses include access to new natural resources, high-speed global transport of people and commodities, improvements in global communication systems, and the prevention of asteroid collisions with Earth. In his book Space Ethics, however, Brian Green comments that the newness and rapid growth of commercial space flight have presented society with unaddressed ethical concerns about the privatization of space travel and planetary exploration. Issues include the exploitation of outer space zones and resources found on other planets. Green also expresses concerns about how potential encounters with alien life forms may be handled. Meanwhile, the need for establishment of equitable space policies and appropriate laws is spelled out in The Ethics of Space Exploration, edited by James Schwartz and Tony Milligan. Both books suggest that approaches to the ethical and legal dilemmas posed by commercial space flight will need to keep pace with the growth of the industry. Several contributing authors to the Schwartz and Milligan volume focus on the fact that commercial space flight companies have followed in the well-worn footsteps of other corporate sectors by establishing their own trade association. In 2006, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) was established as “the leading voice for the commercial spaceflight industry.” Yet, aside from working across various industries that stand to gain from the commercial benefits of space flight, the CSF also seeks to strengthen the status of the US as a world leader in space exploration.11 Arguably, both NASA and the CSF have much to gain in the future from the rekindling of wonderment and awe, that state of highly emotional regard people once held toward space travel during the ups and downs of the first space race. It may be hoped that readers following these developments with the aid of the documentary sources presented in this essay will be able to meet that future with eyes open and find their own best form of engagement within it.

11. Brief organizational history of the CSF is provided at its website, along with its mission statement and updates on newsworthy events deemed relevant to the interests of the commercial space industry. The most recent news article (dated September 2022) announces that “CSF Applauds FAA Appointment of Kelvin Coleman to Serve as Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation.” Accessed November 7, 2022:

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