I have devoted 30 years to the commercial space sector, including directing several federal offices devoted to either regulating or promoting commercial space industry, and leading White House interagency reviews that led to presidential commercial space directives that managed to gain bipartisan support. Accordingly, I read with interest Robert Bigelow’s excellent commentary [“An Open Letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden,” Oct. 12, page 17] in which he indicated that the NASA leadership is still questioning the definition of commercial space. (Full disclosure: A few years ago, I was a consultant to Bigelow Aerospace.) The failure of the U.S. government to adapt to change, of course, is legendary. But allow me to suggest that 18 years ago the executive branch issued a common sense definition of commercial space that should have resolved the definitional issues long ago.
In February 1991, then-President George H.W. Bush signed off on NSPD-3, “U.S. Commercial Space Policy Guidelines,” which stated:
“The U.S. government encourages private investment in, and broader responsibility for, space-related activities that can result in products and services that meet the needs of government and other customers in a competitive market. As a matter of policy, the U.S. government pursues its commercial space objectives without the use of direct federal subsidies. A robust commercial space sector has the potential to generate new technologies, products, markets, jobs and other economic benefits for the nation, as well as indirect benefits for national security.
“Commercial space sector activities are characterized by the provision of products and services such that: private capital is at risk; there are existing, or potential, nongovernmental customers for the activity; the commercial market ultimately determines the viability of the activity; and primary responsibility and management initiative for the activity resides with the private sector.”
This definition has served as a baseline for subsequent presidential space policy directives. If my former esteemed NASA colleagues are still seeking a working definition, allow this former policy wonk to suggest they look no further than this guidance. So let’s please move beyond tiresome definitional debates and instead aggressively pursue the hard work of balancing national interests with the opportunities afforded by private investment in space as outlined by Robert Bigelow.
Courtney A. Stadd