Space Foundation Chief Executive Elliot Pulham speaks at a March 4 press conference to discuss a space policy white paper developed by a coalition of organizations. Credit: AIAA

WASHINGTON — A coalition of space organizations released a white paper March 4 calling for stability and continuity in space policy and hoping, contrary to conventional wisdom, that space does not become a topic in this year’s U.S. presidential campaign.

The five-page white paper, titled “Ensuring U.S. Leadership in Space” and released at a press conference here, was developed over several months by a group of 13 organizations who wanted to get information about the importance of space out to candidates for president and for Congress.

“We thought it would be a good time to have a platform of information out there that all candidates could refer to, learn from and take to heart as they plan their campaigns,” said Elliot Pulham, chief executive of the Space Foundation, one of the organizations involved in the development of the white paper.

The first part of the document outlines the importance of space to national security, the economy and science, and warns of risks caused by factors that include budget uncertainty and international competition. The second part offers policy recommendations that, it argues, “continue U.S. leadership in space.”

Those recommendations include endorsement of both the Space Launch System and Orion vehicles NASA in developing for its exploration plans, as well as the agency’s commercial crew efforts. Both programs, the paper states, enjoy “bipartisan and bicameral support” in Congress and are essential to restoring the nation’s ability to send humans into space.

Other recommendations in the report are more general. It requests that federal government space efforts be funded “for long-term viability and sustainability.” It endorses continued international cooperation and industry partnerships. It also supports a “robust” national security space program.

A major theme of the white paper was stability for civil, commercial and military space programs. “What we’re hoping for is a stability of purpose,” said Sandra Magnus, executive director of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, another member of the coalition.

“One of the greatest threats is uncertainty, and what we’d like to see from the government is that it be there to help, not hurt,” said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

The coalition has provided the white paper to the campaigns of all the major presidential candidates, contacting one of them just in the last day. “At this point, the staff who have received these have expressed gratitude and interest,” Pulham said. He added that, at this stage of the campaign, “these types of serious policy issues are probably only now being addressed.”

The major Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have said little about space policy so far in the campaign. None have yet released policy papers about civil or military space, and have mentioned space only in passing in campaign speeches or town hall meetings.

While some space advocates have bemoaned that lack of public discussion about space, it’s fine with coalition members. “To some extent, the purpose of this is not to have space become a big presidential issue,” Pulham said. The goal, he said, is to have presidential candidates “embrace the space program because it is quintessentially American.”

Pulham described the creation of the coalition of organizations who developed the white paper as “unprecedented,” although there is at least one other example of such a group. Thirteen organizations formed the Space Exploration Alliance (SEA) in 2004 to support the Vision for Space Exploration announced earlier that year by President George W. Bush. The SEA still exists and its 10 current member organizations run an annual grassroots “legislative blitz,” visiting congressional offices to discuss space policy issues.

This new coalition plans to remain active at least though the November general election, sharing the white paper with House and Senate candidates as well as state governors. Those plans, Magnus said, includes monthly activities of some kind. “We want to keep the ball rolling,” she said. “We think this is important momentum that we’ve generated and we don’t want to see it fail.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...