President elect Obama will face space policy challenges in security, commercial and civil areas in an era in which the use of space assets for these ends is irreversible. The very “future of space” is linked to addressing the challenges within the first term of the Obama Administration.
National Security Space
military makes use of space assets for warfighting and state-building. The policy challenge is to ensure secure and sustainable access to, and use of, space and freedom from space-based threats, versus space as a contested domain that places importance on space denial and control.
Freedom of access and use of space are the cornerstones of national space policies from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to President George W. Bush today. It is the accepted interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty, which established basic legal principles: space as a commons based on free use and free access; peaceful uses of space; use of space for the betterment of humankind; no military bases or weapons of mass destruction in space; and noninterference with the space activities of others.
This regime allows for advantages that the
possesses in the use of space assets for national security. Concomitantly, the vulnerabilities of space assets to interference lead to the importance of space denial and control. The Chinese antisatellite test in January 2007 served to reinforce this view. Hence, the security space leadership in the
advocates that space is a “contested” domain.
One issue is how best to formulate a deterrent strategy and develop capabilities to counter threats to space assets. This begins with effective space situational awareness to enable self-defense to protect space assets. Effective deterrence can also be fostered with operationally responsive space assets and counter space doctrines and operations.
With the exception of the priority placed on space situational awareness, there are several obstacles to implementation of space denial and control doctrines – particularly resource constraints.
The resources are not likely to exist for developing a comprehensive set of capabilities that achieve denial and control, especially given the cost of developing a robust space situational awareness capability. This is further exacerbated by acquisition processes that often are plagued by cost and scheduling problems, which make the realization of denial and control a proposition for the longer term.
Commercial space assets allow for space launch, telecommunication and remote sensing activities that are critical for the
economic infrastructure and essential for effective warfighting. The policy issue is how to move forward into a space age driven by commercial space activity.
Since the rise of the space age in the 1950s, the
sought the development of a commercial space sector. The challenge is to strike an appropriate balance between the need to regulate and the desire to create a political environment that encourages commercial space development.
, as a user of outer space, creates economic opportunities in the form of lucrative, cost-plus contracts that support a robust space industrial sector. These contracts are leveraged to transfer technology and know-how acquired in developing government space systems to commercial space systems.
A more cost-effective contractual relationship will emerge if such contracts are shifted away from the cost-plus approach in favor of a fixed price and reward-based approach.
Further consideration needs to be given to other, noncontractual methods. Tax incentives are one approach. A number of proposed legislative initiatives in Congress – the Space Tourism Promotion Act, the Zero Gravity Zero Tax Bill and the Invest in Space Now Act – advocate this approach.
Prizes for technology development are another way forward. Public-private partnerships directed toward developing technologies, such as operationally responsive space capabilities and small satellites, offer new opportunities for space commerce.
There also are barriers to commercial space development that need to be addressed. Property rights need to be extended beyond Earth to cover resources harvested in the future from the Moon or asteroids. For spacefaring states, bringing space into an “economic sphere of influence” hinges on shifting the thinking about space resources as collective goods to an emphasis on private goods.
The harsh space environment poses mission costs such as mitigating environmental dangers such as orbital debris proliferation. There also are issues related to scarcity of resources and their efficient use. International standards are a key toward addressing many of the environmental challenges, and are necessary for businesses to exercise due diligence in their safety and liability concerns. Space traffic management also requires attention as there currently is no government policy or any set of international “rules of the road.” This is of concern as space becomes ever more crowded with commercial and governmental players.
Better governance of space is another challenge that depends on the ways space situational awareness data is shared. The current
approach is the Commercial and Foreign Entities program, which formulates data sharing “on a need to know basis.” Moving this program in the direction of integrated data architectures would facilitate greater transparency.
Most fundamentally, the
should act on behalf of space companies to ensure an open, free-market environment in global space commerce. The current approach to export control of commercial space technologies, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), prevents this. ITAR prevents international partnerships in commercial space by making them exceedingly bureaucratic to implement.
Domestic manufacturing capabilities for vital space-related hardware and components are drastically reduced due to ITAR, and ITAR damages national security by placing legal and bureaucratic restrictions on the military use of commercial space assets that rely on a robust satellite industry and space industrial base.
The United States is at a crossroads in civil space with NASA efforts directed at the Vision for Space Exploration: retiring the space shuttle by 2010, completing the international space station, and the looming issue of the gap between retirement of the shuttle fleet and the advent of the Constellation program’s new human transportation system – the Ares 1 rocket and the Orion crew capsule.
The challenge again is that of budgetary resources. There are many tradeoffs that need to be made. The key is to get balance in the budget on specific program line-items. The transition from the shuttle to Constellation will take place within an environment of limited budgetary resources, and it is important that NASA maintain programs in space sciences and Earth sciences while it accomplishes this expensive transition in its human spaceflight program.
The next administration also will face considerable political pressure to achieve a better balance in NASA’s budget between the agency’s human spaceflight and science programs. A successful balance depends on renewed efforts to strengthen cooperation between civil space and commercial space.
The future of the agency’s Space Exploration Initiative will be a big part of this debate and it is crucial the next administration commit to remaking NASA organizationally so the agency can better manage the budgetary trends to get the most out of its vision.
Sadeh, Ph.D., is president of Astroconsulting International LLC and serves as principal social scientist to the
for Space and Defense Studies at the
. The views expressed here are his own and not those of the