What a Trump administration means for space
WASHINGTON — A space policy of the administration of President-elect Donald Trump is likely to focus more on human spaceflight, technology development and commercialization, and less on Earth science.
Trump, the Republican nominee, claimed victory in a speech in New York shortly before 3 a.m. Eastern Nov. 9, after the Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called to concede. The outcome shocked many, given polls generally projected a modest but clear Clinton victory.
For most of his campaign, which formally started in June 2015, Trump said little about space, and offered only terse responses to questions about his positions on civil or military space issues. In the final weeks before the election, though, the campaign took space more seriously, bringing on Robert Walker, a former congressman, as its space policy advisor.
“I’ve been that for about two weeks,” Walker said of his advisory position in comments at an Oct. 26 meeting of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) here. “I think the campaign figured out, at one point there, that they actually did need a space policy.”
Walker said he developed a policy that, at the request of the the Trump campaign, offered “real change” in space. “I would describe what we came up with in four terms: it’s visionary, it’s disruptive, it’s coordinating and it’s resilient.”
He further described the campaign’s space framework by listing nine key aspects of its proposed implementation:
1. A “commitment to global space leadership” that Walker said would produce the “technology, security and jobs” needed for the United States in the 21st century.
2. A reinstitution of the National Space Council, headed by the vice president, to oversee all government space efforts to seek efficiencies and eliminate redundancies. The council was last in operation during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.
3. A goal of “human exploration of the solar system by the end of the century,” which Walker said would serve as a “stretch goal” to drive technology developments to a stronger degree than simply a goal of humans to Mars.
4. Shifting NASA budgets to “deep space achievements” rather than Earth science and climate research. Walker said that some, unspecified NASA Earth science missions might be better handled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but “there would have to be some budget adjustments” to transfer those missions from NASA to NOAA.
5. Development of small satellite technologies that in particular can provide resiliency for the military, and also develop satellite servicing technologies.
6. Seek world leadership in hypersonics technology, including for military applications.
7. Hand over access to and operations in low Earth orbit to the commercial sector.
8. Start discussions about including more “private and public partners” in operations and financing of the International Space Station, including extending the station’s lifetime. Walker also left open the possibility of including China as one of those new partners.
9. Require that all federal agencies develop plans for how they would use “space assets and space developments” to carry out their missions.
One issue that Walker did not directly raise in his outline of a Trump administration space policy was funding for NASA. “We are not likely to get huge new numbers for the space program in the future, even if we get the budget settled,” he said later in the COMSTAC discussion. He called for “marshaling the resources of the entire space community” to carry out those policies, but didn’t go into details about how that would be done.
Walker suggested a Trump administration could create a bigger role for the moon in NASA’s space exploration plans than today, when the agency has no plans for a human return to the lunar surface.
“I became convinced at the time that we did the Aldridge Commission, where I served, that it was very essential to have the moon as a part of our planned missions headed for Mars and beyond,” he said, referring to the 2004 commission established to study the implementation of President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration. “I can’t speak for the campaign or the transition team, but I will say personally I think going to the moon as a part of an extended presence in space is vital.”