For about two-and-a-half months last year starting April 1, the Space Enterprise Council, a membership-driven organization founded in 2000 to promote the U.S. space industry through a combination of education and advocacy, was without a home. Its original host organization, the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had abruptly disbanded the group — which at the time had 28 corporate members — with no warning and little explanation.
The council eventually found a new home with TechAmerica, which like the Chamber of Commerce is a lobbying organization but is more narrowly focused on the information technology industry. TechAmerica does not have the chamber’s size, clout or name recognition, but David Logsdon, who has run the Space Enterprise Council since 2004, believes it is a better fit since the space and information industries tend to have a similar focus: collecting and moving data. He also notes that TechAmerica is more actively involved in Space Enterprise Council matters than was the chamber.
Originally geared primarily toward the commercial space industry, the Space Enterprise Council has evolved to encompass traditional hardware manufacturers as well. This membership diversity makes it difficult at times to reach consensus on policy questions such as whether the U.S. government should boost its reliance on commercial services as opposed to owning and operating more of its space systems.
Like everyone else in the space industry these days, Logsdon is keeping a close eye on NASA, whose transition to the post-shuttle era is fraught with uncertainty following the White House decision — opposed by many in Congress — to scrap the Moon-focused Constellation program and rely on commercially operated vehicles to ferry astronauts to and from the international space station.
Logsdon spoke recently with Space News Editor Warren Ferster.
Has your membership changed since you were reconstituted under TechAmerica?
We had a handful of companies drop off between the downtime of being dismissed from the chamber and starting up at TechAmerica.
Did any of those who dropped out cite the disassociation from the chamber as the reason?
Orbital Sciences was the only one. They gave that as the reason.
What other major companies dropped out?
ITT, L-3, those are the biggest ones.
Has the Space Enterprise Council lost any clout for not being affiliated with the chamber?
I would say if we had a different administration and a different party running Congress, that would certainly be the case, but with Barack Obama in the White House and the Democrats in charge of the House and Senate, there isn’t as much of an effect.
Why is that?
The chamber has been at war with the Obama administration for the past year.
What’s your top priority right now?
The top priority right now is ensuring that there is a balanced, robust NASA budget that fulfills the needs of my member companies.
As a consensus-based organization, how do you reconcile the needs of a company like ATK, which is heavily invested in the Constellation program, with members that have more to gain from Obama’s new direction for NASA, such as United Launch Alliance?
We’re actually in the process of trying to come to a consensus position on the NASA budget. We realize it’s our No. 1 priority; we also realize that it may be very difficult to do so. But an overarching theme is the importance of actually having a healthy NASA budget. So we’re going to see as we move forward whether companies that have different interests may be able to agree on a common language.
The White House requested an increase for NASA in 2011 whereas most U.S. federal agencies are either flat or taking cuts. What concerns you about the NASA budget right now?
I think it all depends where the money is allocated and specifically which congressional districts. Right now the champions for NASA, congressional champions, are in Alabama, Texas, Florida, Maryland, Ohio. Depending on where the money is divvied up going into the next fiscal year, that could be a grave concern because with the new approach, there currently aren’t any congressional champions.
Wouldn’t there be support from California, which hosts a key beneficiary of the new approach in Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)?
There could be, but it may take a few years to develop, and quite frankly, we do not have a few years. If NASA takes a budget hit as we move forward, I don’t know if NASA can recover.
Recover in what sense?
Being relevant on the global stage.
In other words, being the leader when it comes to space exploration?
You could throw in that quote for me, yes. Absolutely.
I’m surprised SpaceX isn’t a member of the council.
Back when we were at the chamber, they were close to joining. But that was before all this happened, meaning the paradigm shift. And they were already members of the Aerospace Industries Association at that time. I think if they tried to join any organization that had ATK, Lockheed, Boeing and others as members, right now that would be a very difficult sell. There would be too much friction; I don’t think anything would get done policy wise.
Are you concerned about a stalemate between the White House and Congress that leads to another year of spending on a program whose future is in doubt?
Yes, it is a huge concern. As we’re dealing with the extended dialogue between Congress and the administration, tens of thousands of employees are being laid off. If and when Congress and the administration come up with a compromise, I believe it may be too late to recapture that intellectual capital that we’re losing.
NASA is slated for a $6 billion raise over the next five years. Do you think the White House can actually deliver on that?
I think with the economic uncertainty in this nation and the fact that that’s not going to get better any time soon, whether you’re talking about NASA, NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], DoD [Department of Defense] — any of the space agencies — you have to have grave concerns about whether that money will actually be there.
Do you have any particular concerns about NOAA?
NOAA is in better shape than NASA. If ever there was a time for NOAA to show its relevancy to this nation with climate change, with environmental issues, with what’s happening with the oil spill and NOAA’s role, now is the time for NOAA to step up to the plate.
Export reform is another of your big issues. Do you think space technology is a particular focus of the broader reform effort?
It absolutely is. I think the statements that have come out of Europe about ITAR [International Traffic in Arms Regulations]-free satellites are finally hitting home with the right people here in the United States, [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and others. And with a wide sweeping look at our industrial base, which is taking place right now in DoD circles, I think it’s very much an eye opener, the impact that export policy has had across the board.
When all is said and done, do you think enough space components will be removed from the list of tightly controlled technologies to make a difference for this industry?
I think enough space components will fall off the list to satisfy U.S. industry. Whether enough will fall off the list to satisfy our foreign customers remains to be seen.
What are your impressions of the National Space Policy released by the White House in June?
I think it’s a well thought out, solid document, but with any policy it all depends on whether they can implement it or not.
Are there any particular areas of the policy that you see as challenging?
Defining what exactly international cooperation means. And how you balance that with ensuring you have a healthy American industrial base.