Executive order creating National Space Council expected soon

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WASHINGTON — An executive order by President Trump reestablishing the National Space Council is already written and is likely to be formally issued in the near future, a key advisor said May 1.

The recreation of the council, which last operated during the administration of President George H.W. Bush a quarter-century ago, could play a key role fostering the development of so-called Ultra Low-Cost Access to Space (ULCATS) systems, said attendees of a symposium here on the subject.

“The recommendation coming out of the Trump campaign to create the National Space Council is going to happen,” said Robert Walker, the former chairman of the House Science Committee who served as a space policy advisor to the campaign last fall. “It’s a way of ensuring that the nation’s resources are all directed towards national goals.”

Walker said he believed that the administration was ready to formally announce the reestablishment of the council once it identified an executive secretary who would run the council on a day-to-day basis.

“The executive order has been written. It’s all set to go,” he said. “It’s a matter of timing. I think they’re hoping to announce the executive secretary of the space council at the same time that they announce the formation of the space council.”

“I think it’s imminent,” he added of the timing of that announcement. “I don’t know exactly what the time and date is, but everything is in place for it to happen.”

As in past iterations of the council, the council will be formally chaired by the vice president. At an event in the Oval Office March 21 to sign a NASA authorization act into law, Vice President Mike Pence said the administration would be taking action “in very short order” to reestablish the council.

“He’s asked me to chair that, as vice presidents have in the past,” Pence said of President Trump, “and we’re going to be bringing together the best and the brightest in NASA and also in the private sector.”

“I can tell you firsthand that Vice President Pence is extremely excited about his ability to be the chair of that council, and I expect it to be a very active part of this administration,” Walker said at the symposium.

Others at the symposium were hopeful that a new space council, by bringing together government agencies and others involved in space, could promote the development of systems to achieve sharp reductions in the cost of space access.

“I do think that we need a National Space Council, and it is going to ensure that we have a holistic ULCATS strategy, because it will need to cut across agencies and also enable cooperation with the private sector,” said Laetitia Garriott de Cayeux, formerly the chief executive of Escape Dynamics, a company that attempted to develop beamed propulsion technology that it believed could enable a dramatic reduction in launch costs.

“I think its mission should be to shepherd a new regulatory environment. It should be okay to fail,” said Les Kovacs, director of executive branch affairs for United Launch Alliance. That approach, he said, would enable innovation in launch vehicle development that could lead to lower-cost systems.

James Reuter, deputy associate administrator for programs in NASA’s space technology mission directorate, said he hoped that a space council could resolve conflicts between the administration and Congress regarding funding priorities. “There’s a lot of congressional guidance on the programs they fund, and they don’t always align with the administration’s viewpoints,” he said. “Perhaps a space council could help us.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in a keynote to close the half-day symposium, said he would also hope that the administration would make a formal commitment towards reducing space access costs. “I think that the next really big step is for the president or the vice president to make a commitment, probably in a major speech, that says that this is the future,” he said. “The future is going to be dramatically lowering the cost of getting into space.”

Gingrich, a long-time space advocate, said he now has a “renewed energy” on this issue. “I spent a long stretch where I did not do anything in space,” he said. “I am here today because I believe we’re at a great turning point. I think we have a real opportunity.”