Jeff Bingham, former senior advisor to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, James Uthmeier, counsel and special advisor to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Eric Stallmer, Commercial Spaceflight Federation president, discussed U.S. civil space policy at the ISS Research and Development conference. Credit: Debra Werner/SpaceNews

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Jared Stout worked for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in 2011.

SAN FRANCISCO — Jared Stout was working on U.S. Rep. Sandy Adam’s staff in 2011, when the Space Shuttle program ended without a replacement. That was a difficult time for Stout’s friends and neighbors on Florida’s Space Coast.

“A lot of people left Florida, left the Space Coast and left NASA,” said Stout, who now serves as National Space Council deputy executive secretary and chief of staff. “They will never return.”

As the Trump Administration looks ahead to the future of low Earth orbit, “we are bound and determined  to ensure that never happens again,” Stout said July 26 at the International Space Station Research & Development conference here. “The scientists, engineers, technicians and support staff that make the International Space Station program run are national assets that must be protected and transitioned in a way that ensures we do not lose their expertise.”

As the National Space Council begins work on a national microgravity strategy, it is planning a series of roundtable discussions with industry to explore what the federal government can do to encourage access to and utilization of the microgravity environment.

“As we develop the microgravity strategy, the most important questions are: what are the needs of the federal government and what are the needs of commercial industry,” Stout told SpaceNews after a panel discussion on U.S. civil space policy. “How can the federal government set up policies and put strategies in place that will create the best environment for success? We don’t all know what that looks like yet but the options box is wide-open.”

In addition to preserving the workforce built around the ISS and microgravity research, the National Space Council is focused on the cost of transportation to low Earth orbit and demand for microgravity activity.

“No matter what you do in space, the most prohibitively expensive part for most new and innovative companies is just getting there,” Stout said. “Companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, the Virgin space companies and United Launch Alliance are making huge inroads into this but the pricepoint necessary to see continuous access to low Earth orbit platforms for rapid prototyping and experimentation is going to require regular, predictable and relatively low-price access to the microgravity environment. At the National Space Council, we continue to encourage departments and agencies to utilize nontraditional industry partners to find ways to bring the cost of access down.”

The National Space Council also sees demand for microgravity activity as far more of a problem than supply of new space stations.

“There is no shortage of investment or interest in supplying low Earth orbit platforms for the federal government and private actors to utilize,” Stout said. “In fact, of all the things we think about in ISS transition planning, having a platform for the federal government to have continual access to low Earth orbit is very low on the list.”

Instead, the Trump Administration is concerned with “expanding demand for the microgravity environment and convincing nontraditional partners that investments in access to low Earth orbit are in their long-term best interest for research, development and deployment,” Stout said. “It is up to each of us to drive the demand that is necessary to sustain that long-term future in low Earth orbit. And it is up the federal government to get out of your way and make the regulatory and policy environment as favorable as possible for your success.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She is...