OpEd: New Possibilities in Space for U.S., France

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  Space News Business

OpEd: New Possibilities in Space for U.S., France

By ROBBIN LAIRD

posted: 02 November 2007
11:49 am ET








T


he Sarkozy administration’s clear commitment to working with the United States on global security policy creates new possibilities for trans-Atlantic co-operation. With the United States assured of a new president in 2009 and the new French administration already rethinking its own security, defense and space policies, the next U.S. administration will have an opportunity to build an important new partnership – but that effort could begin even now.



By engaging the Sarkozy government immediately, the Bush administration could set in motion processes that would facilitate positive changes the next administration could build upon. The next administration will inevitably face the challenge of reconciliation with allies and working through new international initiatives to reshape the global security agenda and environment. Rather than writing memoirs justifying their past actions, the country would be far better served if the nation’s current executive leadership set in motion a reconciliation that would serve as a real legacy for future generations.

There are three major efforts that ought to be addressed.



First, the United States, France and other European allies need to launch a real collaborative military space effort, one in which the military’s digital future is anchored in a collective defense and a new, more effective global security system.



Second, the United States and Europe – led by France, which spends more on space than any of its partners in the European Space Agency – need to work together to support entrepreneurial space companies.

Third, the United States and Europe need to become full partners in the exploration enterprise.

Bold new initiatives are not required. Ongoing national and other separate efforts in civil space ought to be coordinated to avoid the current duplication of effort all around the globe.

Piaget, the famous Swiss child psychologist, wrote about the play of young children being that of parallel play whereby children have not yet learned to play together in a team effort. As we move into the next 50 years of space exploration, leaving our infancy, it will be necessary to move beyond parallel play to team play, to become realistic about the limitations on resources, energy and efforts shaped on purely an American or European basis.

Intersecting European and American efforts can provide energy that neither side has by itself. The rise of the non-Western space powers provides a realistic challenge requiring the West to pool resources and efforts. By crafting a more effective collaborative trans-Atlantic relationship, a more open architecture would be created for global allies such as Japan and India to participate more fully in a global space enterprise.

Crafting a core, trans-Atlantic exploration architecture would be a central pillar to the global space enterprise. The Bush administration deserves praise for re-energizing the human exploration efforts of the United States. Yet the current plan is too narrowly nationalistic to survive contact with financial and technological realities.

By re-crafting the exploration enterprise to be a U.S. inspired effort to shape a modular approach to Moon exploration, a full engagement of France and Europe would be much easier. After much hesitation, European space leaders are publicly, but even more privately, interested in the Moon exploration effort. But to gain full commitment of limited resources, decision-making needs to be shared and Europe should be a full partner in crafting a modular approach to the exploration effort.

A good transition element is easily at hand. The Bush administration wishes to end the life of the shuttle to open up the way for the new Ares launch vehicle and Orion crew capsule, but with the shuttle fleet set to retire in 2010 and Ares and Orion not scheduled to come online until at least 2015, there will be a significant capability gap in getting humans and cargo to the station, forcing both Europe and the United States to rely on the Russians.

One opportunity to change that dynamic would be for the United States to make greater use of Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to transport cargo to the space station in the post-shuttle era. European space transportation also can be part of the overall strategy for returning to the Moon.

Entrepreneurial space efforts must also be an important element of the way ahead for Western space strategies. Europe has been very reluctant to embrace entrepreneurs, but this could be changed. NASA has focused on its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program (COTS) to speed the development of commercial services capable of providing transportation to the space station before Ares and Orion are ready in the middle of the next decade. However, it is highly unlikely that the COTS competitors will be available in time to reliably end shuttle flights.

Using ATV in a commercial way in addition to the role it will play as part of the intergovernmental agreement that governs the space station partnership could be a transitional commercial solution, a bridge between the shuttle and a more entrepreneurial approach to space transportation.

Sarkozy’s
renewed emphasis on entrepreneurship – after all this is a French word – can be extended to space and France should embrace the support of entrepreneurs and perhaps encourage the development of European prizes like the Google Lunar X Prize.



The most immediate focus should be on collaboration in what has historically been called military space. Military space is a digital domain increasingly shaped by the Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) enterprise that operates from space and airborne assets tied to an increasingly complex ground-based processing domain. As the digital domain becomes the heart of the military and security systems crucial to protecting the West, there are numerous new possibilities for collaboration.






An initial effort could revolve around what the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force calls shaping the “global security enterprise.” By forging ISR and command and control regimes that can share information, core states can shape common actions to provide for enhanced security.



For example, if France and the United States could more fully shape common approaches to maritime domain awareness and sharing of data on maritime security, a key element for using space systems to contribute to common security would be put in place. Shaping common protocols in sharing of digital data is the core effort required to craft the “Link-16” regime for space generated data and processing systems. While “Link-16” has allowed coalition aircraft to work together, a similar effort is required with respect to space systems. The new France under Sarkozy could become a key partner in this effort.



Another logical strategy would be an effort to revisit the Global Positioning System (GPS)-Galileo competition. Galileo has not been effectively funded, in part, because of the correct perception that GPS 2F and, certainly, GPS 3 will be far more capable, and reduce the threat of signal degradation.



The inclusion of Europe in the GPS 3 enterprise if crafted now and crafted to include European capability within the system might provide a new impulse to European-American collaboration. European capabilities can be the provision of satellites to the system, transponders on the system, or, more innovatively, transponders on Globalstar (which is closely associated with Europe) or on Iridium constellations. By engaging Europe fully in GPS 3, the United States could lead an effort to gain much greater robustness and survivability to the GPS system.



In short, the Sarkozy opening provides an opportunity to redirect both U.S. and European space efforts in a direction more likely to meet the objectives of both sides. European collaboration by itself fails to generate the resources and energy necessary to provide for effective space leadership. And U.S. efforts which confuse a national vision with global leadership need to be redirected to shape a collaborative space effort which the West can embrace.





Robbin Laird, PhD, is a Washington- and Paris-based aerospace and defense industrial consultant.