The far side of the moon and distant Earth, imaged by the 2014 Chang’e-5 T1 mission service module.
The far side of the moon and distant Earth, imaged by the 2014 Chang’e-5 T1 mission service module. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

WASHINGTON — A group of more than 120 experts from the U.S. military, government space agencies and the private sector issued a report July 28 calling for investments in technology and education to ensure the United States remains the dominant space power.

The 86-page report, “State of the Space Industrial Base 2020: A Time for Action to Sustain U.S. Economic & Military Leadership in Space,” summarizes the results of a May conference led by the Defense Innovation Unit, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the U.S. Space Force and NewSpace New Mexico.

One of the narratives in the report is that the United States is at risk of being displaced by China as the world’s leader in space exploration and use of space for economic development. It suggests the U.S. could meet that challenge by increasing its support of the commercial space industry and giving the military a bigger role in protecting civilian and private sector space assets.

“China is committed and credible in its pledge to become the leading, global superpower, to include space, by 2049 marking the 100 th anniversary of the People’s Republic,” the report says. “A key component of China’s strategy is to displace the U.S. as the leading power in space and lure U.S. allies and partners away from US-led space initiatives.”

A central recommendation in the report is for the U.S. to develop a “guiding national vision for space industrialization and national space development.”

Other recommendations:

Expand role of U.S. Space Force — The report recommends a broader role for the U.S. Space Force protecting U.S. commercial and civil space capabilities, commerce and civil infrastructure in the space domain, similarly to how the U.S. Navy protects the global maritime commerce. “Clarity on this issue will drive commercial confidence for a more rapid expansion of U.S. space entrepreneurial activity,” says the report.

The Space Force also could help support America’s return to the moon by providing safety of navigation services in cislunar space. The Space Force should “articulate its role in planetary defense,” the report says. “Such a role could accelerate America’s edge in asteroid mining and in-space transportation.” In this context, the Space Force would be like the Army Corps of Engineers, helping accelerate the development of critical infrastructure.

Support domestic space industry — The industry has been financially damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and the full extent of the crisis is still unclear. The U.S. government could encourage investments in the space industry in the form of bonds, a space commodities exchange and a government commitment to procure products and services through such an exchange.

Include allies and partners in space development efforts — China is trying to lure U.S. allies through offers of joint participation in the development of global platforms and international infrastructure and wealth, including space development. In response, the U.S. should deepen ties with allies and partners in space development projects.

Increase investment in STEM education — The U.S. government should provide incentives to fill the demand for talent. One suggestion could be a STEM ROTC with targeted undergraduate scholarships for U.S. citizens in return for working in STEM in the United States after graduation. NASA’s Artemis program will require an additional 10,000 STEM graduates for civil needs alone, with more needed to support the Space Force.

Suggestions to the private sector:

  • Aggressively pursue partnerships with the U.S. government
  • Protect intellectual property from unintended foreign assimilation
  • Develop the future STEM workforce by funding undergraduate scholarships and loans
  • Build closer ties with domestic and allied suppliers of parts and subcomponents to improve the resilience of the space supply chains.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...