'New space race' could yield $1 trillion industry: Wilbur Ross

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross called on Congress Thursday to create a new department to cultivate economic opportunities amid a “new space race” in the aerospace industry.

Speaking at the Aerospace Industry Association’s board of governors meeting, Ross said the global space economy is now worth $400 billion annually, up from about $340 billion in 2016. Ross submitted legislation last month to create a “Bureau of Space Commerce,” which, if approved, would support efforts by private and public firms to expand space tourism, manufacturing, prospecting and other initiatives.

“Today there is a new space race – but this time, it is being run in the private sector. … Commerce is conducting a regulatory reform that will unshackle the commercial space sector and unleash economic growth,” Ross said.

Early reforms have cut the time needed to obtain a commercial space license to 62 from 140 days. Ross said the new bureau would focus on constructing a new regulatory framework to boost commercial access to space without expanding the government’s reach.

The secretary set an early goal of building a commercial space economy worth $1 trillion within the next several years, with the Bureau of Space Commerce playing a key role.

“We have already begun laying the foundation for this ‘one stop shop,’” Ross said. “Our new space team, representing all Commerce offices and bureaus, meets weekly and collaborates on ways to advance this growing economy.”

The Trump administration has backed efforts to expand the U.S.’s economic and military activity in space. President Trump called earlier this year for the creation of a “Space Force” that would serve as an independent sixth branch of the U.S. military.

Several private space firms are already active in the commercial sector, including SpaceX, backed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Blue Origin, backed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.