Archive for the ‘U.S. National Space Policy’ Category

Forgive the absence.  A note from my mother will be forthcoming.

This is the new national space policy.

Review to follow when my catching up is caught up.

If policy is a “goal or aim of government or society,” (my informal definition), it is important to bear in mind that goals and aims change all the time. It is also important that “government” also changes over every once in a while. So while I’m not trying to say policy can be dismissed or that we shouldn’t have it, to me, its analogous to eating more fruit and vegetables. It generally falls into the “no kidding?” bin.

I recently read an article at The Space Review entitled Elements of a 21st century space policy. Based on what I’ve already described to you, you can probably imaging that I’m not crazy about the article. I can agree with about 15 percent of it, disagree with about a third, and am ambivalent on the final half. Forgive the rounding error, but its in spec.

The part I agree with has to do with the essential nature of stable and adequate funding for space systems. First, let’s be real. To quote myself and many others throughout time, if it ain’t funded, it ain’t. Next, I can also get behind the article’s idea of encouraging commercial enterprise in space, to include property rights. If there are no property rights in space, what is the incentive to build anything with such a low (or negative) return on investment? The whole galaxy doesn’t have to be given away a la the railroads and westward expansion, but the fundamental issue of ‘what’s in it for me?’ for the entrepreneur and capitalist should never be dismissed. Cash for comets anyone?

Now, on the other hand…

Mechanically, the article is filled with distracting elements of weirdness, jargon, and gibberish. This includes a quote from Parag Khanna (Who? The guy may have a 20-pound brain, but he’s not Britney Spears. Introduce him!) and wonkish phrases like “broad brushstrokes” (groan), and “auto-catalytic development.”

Next, the article defers excessively to internationalism and cooperation. Those things are fine as long as they don’t interfere with national needs. However, there is a reason current policy is titled U.S. National Space Policy.

Finally, the article seems to think existing U.S. space policy lacks efficacy because of its belligerent tone. That tone, while way too plain spoken, doesn’t make the current policy lack efficacy. Instead, what the policy is missing is an executable nature. It simply says the U.S. will do things it either can’t or won’t. Or both. If our space policy did what it suggested, China would absolutely freak-out. Notice they are much more freaked out about the U.S. economy, borrowing, and the dollar than they are about space.

Since I like to end on a positive note, I’ll tentatively endorse the importance the author assigns to space tourism. For space to be most fully exploited, we need a breakthrough in the ways we get to space. I view space tourism as the most likely method for this to happen. Government programs tend to refine existent technologies and current propulsion systems haven’t changed too much since Bob Goddard’s time. Cheaper access to space is a valuable goal and our current space community (civil, military, and commercial) can be expected to keep doing what they’ve been doing. The breakout will have to come from somewhere else, and it may well be the space tourism industry.
When a new U.S. National Space Policy is issued, I hope the tone to the world is a little less sterile and a bit…friskier. Along the lines of “Here’s what we want to do with regard to space. Wanna go with us?” Policy that over-promises is bound to under-deliver, so a reality-constrained policy is what I’d prefer to see when it gets renewed. Otherwise, people just look at it and say “those goals are not achievable” and lose interest.

Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin makes an emotional plea for U.S. space leadership with a goal of establishing an American colony on Mars.

The major shortfall in his plea is why we should do this. While Aldrin uses traditional space advocate language like “galvanize public support,” “inspire America’s young students,” and “renew our space industry,” that agreement is as vacuous as the self-licking ice cream cone. If he said “to make life on earth better for Americans by providing revolutionary improvements in energy” (for example) it would be quite a bit easier to get behind.

Additionally, the Outer Space Treaty appears unsupportive of an American colony on Mars, as it says “outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” Is an American colony on Mars “use or occupation”?

A better offer would be to create a new Outer Space Treaty which would allow for the creation of property rights and sovereignty claims in order to incentivize private citizens, industry, and consortiums to explore space for a purpose other than…exploring it.

Finally, as with many of his era, Mr. Aldrin proposes we explore space as part of an international coalition and for the benefit of all mankind. That is little more than code for U.S. taxpayers providing for free-riders to benefit from space. China holds about $2 trillion in U.S. currency–if they want to play, let ’em pay.

I think Mr. Aldrin perhaps stands a little too close to the issue.

Amy Klamper, writing for Space News (subscription required) has said President Obama has given his administration until 1 Oct to review the existing U.S. Space Policy, which was issued under the Bush administration in 2006.

Given the tone of the administration in the article, expect any revised space policy to de-emphasize national security space and to emphasize commercial space, cooperation, and “no kidding” issues like mitigating space debris, space situational awareness, and improving the industrial base. Don’t expect any discussion regarding “space weapons,” whatever they are. During the campaign, Obama endorsed a ban on space weapons–that statement has since been removed from the White House web site.

While space policy is interesting, space funding is important.

This article originally appeared in Air University’s The Wright Stuff.

The U.S. National Space Policy says the government shall use U.S. commercial space capabilities and services to the maximum practical extent, to include purchasing commercial capabilities and services when available and meeting needs.

Regarding communications and followed to a logical extreme, that policy direction means that most and perhaps all space-based military communications should be commercially provided. To meet that need, U.S. Space LLC is trying to get their nose under the tent and provide services that are both responsive and meet military needs. Traditional “exquisite” satellite capabilities–especially for something like comm, which has taken on commodity-like characteristics–won’t cut it, and if you don’t believe it, take a look at the demise of TSAT in the FY10 President’s Budget.

If Boeing, Northrup-Grumman, and Lockheed-Martin are the Infinity, Lexus and BMW of the space industry, U.S. Space appears to be looking to be the Hyundai…domestically produced, of course.

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