Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

US Launches a New Space Policy

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

US Launches a New Space Policy

Article excerpt

In the four and a half decades since the Apollo 17 astronauts left the Moon, public and private activity in space has boomed. Scientific missions have ventured to and radioed back data from the farthest edges of our solar system. Orbiting telescopes have revealed images of stars and galaxies created soon after the Big Bang. More than 1,000 operational satellites--more than 800 of them American--orbit the Earth. Astronauts have occupied the International Space Station (ISS) continuously since the year 2000. Entrepreneurs have started to sell tickets for tourism journeys into orbit. And the global space economy is more than a third of the way to becoming a trillion-dollar endeavor. Yet in all that time, no human has set foot on the Moon, nor has there been any plan for such an expedition--until now.

As it unveils its space policy, the Trump administration has made clear that its space ambitions center on lunar landings for business as well as prestige. "We will return NASA astronauts to the Moon--not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond," Vice President Mike Pence said last November as he chaired the first meeting of a revivified National Space Council.

Details of the venture remain to be established. The task of determining how and when to establish a lunar colony will fall to Jim Bridenstine, the former Republican congressman from Oklahoma whom the Senate confirmed as NASA's new administrator in April. It will add to the impressive list of issues Bridenstine faces in his new post. The agency currently has no manned launch capacity of its own; it must rely on Russian and commercial spacecraft to carry astronauts and crew to the ISS. Bridenstine must decide whether to continue to support the ISS or, perhaps, transfer it to private management. He must manage development of major orbiting observatories such as the James Webb Space Telescope, the bigger and better successor to the Hubble, and the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope, both of which have a worrying tendency to launch late and over budget. And he must develop ways of operating alongside a commercial American space sector that has heavily financed ambitions of its own. All of these issues must be resolved in the context of the Trump administration's emerging space policy.

The Trump administration began to outline its approach to space several months before Bridenstine's appointment. In June 2017, it reinstated the Space Council, a White House organization abandoned in 1993 after disagreements between the George H. W. Bush White House and NASA. As its first actions, the new council set the foundation for three policy directives that outline the administration's approach to space issues.

The first directive, signed by President Donald Trump last December, calls on NASA to "lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities." The directive, Trump said, "marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use." It will also "establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars." The policy stands in contrast to that of the Obama administration, which envisioned activity in the space between Earth and Moon as a test bed for technology to support manned Martian missions.

The second directive, issued in May, builds on the first via a signature approach of the Trump administration: deregulation. According to a White House fact sheet, the directive aims to ensure "that the federal government gets out of the way and unleashes private enterprise to support the economic success of the United States." To do so, it instructs the Secretaries of Transportation and Commerce to set up a regulatory system to manage launches and reentries of spacecraft and to simplify the licensing of commercial spaceflight. …

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