New Alliance To Promote Space Development and Settlement Policies

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Updated Feb. 26 at 6 a.m. EST.

WASHINGTON — On the heels of a closed-door meeting that concluded space development and settlement should be long-term goals of the United States, a separate group of 11 organizations announced a new coalition that will promote policies to achieve those goals.

The Alliance for Space Development (ASD), led by the National Space Society and the Space Frontier Foundation, plans to advocate for legislation and other initiatives to achieve its goal of accelerating the development and settlement of space.

“We are pushing very specific pieces of legislation,” Charles Miller, executive coordinator of ASD, said at a Feb. 25 press conference here announcing the formation of the group.

Perhaps the most ambitious part of the ASD agenda is a proposed “Cheap Access to Space Act” that would offer $3.5 billion in government prizes for the development of reusable launch vehicles. Those prizes include, in a draft version of the bill provided by ASD, $1 billion to the first fully reusable vehicle that can place at least one metric ton into orbit and fly again a week later.

Miller said the proposed bill is based on the belief that economics, and not technology, has inhibited the development of reusable launchers. “We have, in most respects, the fundamental technology,” he said. “We think the number one issue is closing the business case.” A large prize, he said, would incentivize development of reusable launch vehicles.

After the press conference, Miller said ASD will seek potential sponsors of the bill during the March Storm lobbying effort, with the goal of getting it introduced later this year.

Space settlement
A conception of the interior of a space settlement. Credit: NASA Ames Research Center/Rick Guidice

ASD has already lined up a sponsor for another element of its agenda. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) has agreed to introduce a bill that would amend the National Aeronautics and Space Act to make space settlement and development an official national purpose. “That will be introduced soon,” Miller said.

The group also supports a “gapless” strategy for transitioning from the International Space Station to future commercial orbital stations in the 2020s by stimulating the development of commercial ISS modules. “If we lose the space station, we will lose the commercial crew and cargo industry as well,” Miller said. “We need to make sure now, about ten years out, that we have a seamless transition to commercial space stations.”

ASD’s agenda includes some near-term issues, including full funding for NASA’s commercial crew program and an extension of the “learning period” that restricts the Federal Aviation Administration’s ability to regulate the safety of people flying on commercial spacecraft.

The group has the support of one key member of Congress who attended the press conference. “I am excited about the Alliance,” said Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), ranking member of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, and science subcommittee.

That excitement, he said, is based on ASD’s emphasis on development. “The investment that our nation has made in space exploration has positioned us to move forward aggressively on the question of development.”

Besides the National Space Society and the Space Frontier Foundation, which are considered founding executive members of ASD, member organizations include the Lifeboat Foundation, Mars Foundation, Mars Society, Space Development Steering Alliance, Space Tourism Society, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, Students on Capitol Hill, Tea Party in Space and Texas Space Alliance.

ASD’s announcement comes after the Pioneering Space National Summit, an invitation-only meeting held here Feb. 19 and 20. The meeting’s outcome was a 52-word consensus statement that human spaceflight should have the long-term goal of enabling “settlement and a thriving space economy” for the nation.

Organizers of the summit emphasized that their event, which avoided discussion of launch vehicle technologies and similar details, and the formation of ASD are unrelated. “While they happened in the same weekly news cycle, it’s very important that people know the Pioneering Space Summit and the new Alliance are two completely different things and were not coordinated at all,” Rick Tumlinson of the New Worlds Institute said in a Feb. 26 statement to SpaceNews.

Although the summit was closed to the media, those who participated said the meeting attracted high-ranking people from industry, government and other organizations. Companies represented at the meeting included Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK, as well as smaller entrepreneurial companies.

“It had some very high level people there, including from NASA,” said Mark Hopkins, chairman of the National Space Society executive committee. Others who attended said that William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, was at the summit.

“It was breathtaking how much consensus there was amongst the community,” said James Pura, president of the Space Frontier Foundation and a summit participant.

“This is something we’ve been pushing for 40 years,” said Hopkins, a veteran space advocate who in 1975 helped establish a predecessor of the National Space Society, the L-5 Society, that advocated for space settlement. “Believe me, there was no consensus in 1975 that this was the way to go.”