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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs 3 Foundational Elements To contribute to realizing critical national objectives, including those listed in the previous chapter, the U.S. space program, both the civil and the national security components, must have a strong foundation and adequate resources. While the breadth of the civil space program has grown, there is also a sense that the program has been unfocused, with corresponding impacts on the organizations and institutions that support it. The United States can no longer pursue space activities on the assumption of its unchallengeable dominance—as evidenced by the view of other nations that the United States is not the only, or in some cases even the best, option for space partnerships. U.S. leadership in space activities and their capacity to serve urgent national needs must be based on preeminent technical capabilities; ingenuity, entrepreneurialism, and a willingness to take risks; and, recognition of mutual interdependencies. The time has come to reassess and, in some cases reinvent, the institutions, workforce, infrastructure, and technology base for U.S. space activities. In the committee’s view, four foundational elements are critical to a purposeful, effective, strategic U.S. space program, without which U.S. space efforts will lack robustness, realism, sustainability, and affordability. Coordinated national strategies—implementing national space policy coherently across all civilian agencies in support of national needs and priorities and aligning attention to shared interests of civil and national security space activities; A competent technical workforce—sufficient in size, talent, and experience to address difficult and pressing challenges;
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs An effectively sized and structured infrastructure—realizing synergy from the public and private sectors and from international partnerships; and A priority investment in technology and innovation—strengthening and sustaining the U.S. capacity to meet national needs through transformational advances. In the case of each of these elements, there are impediments and challenges that need to be overcome to ensure a strong foundation for the nation’s civil space program, and the committee discusses some of these unresolved issues in the following sections. ALIGNING THE NATION’S SPACE ACTIVITIES The committee’s conclusion is that the U.S. civil space program has made and will continue to make major contributions to the nation’s welfare. Yet no processes are currently in place whereby all of the space activities of the federal government, whether civil or national security, can be properly aligned so that each element is assigned the resources required to achieve its mission and so that there is proper coordination across all of the government agencies involved. Since the beginning of the U.S. space program, there have been interdependencies and intersections between the national security and civil space communities. They share the same pool of trained talent, industrial base, technology advances, launch infrastructure, and ground and test equipment. Both must maintain awareness of the space environment (e.g., to anticipate and counter threats and risks due to radiation and debris); both can benefit from being able to share satellite-derived information (e.g., on weather, climate, and disaster situations) and the results of research conducted in universities and industrial laboratories; and both have needs for international coordination of space policy. Proper coherence among all of the elements of U.S. space activities—civil and national security—is thus important. Given the broad mandates of civil and military space efforts and their influence on many aspects of U.S. society, economy, and national image, it is unrealistic and unworkable to expect that there should be a single space strategy. But a process, led by senior executive branch officials, that has as its purpose the proper alignment of the nation’s space activities would help to ensure that each participating agency has the resources necessary to achieve its established goals; that avoidable duplication is reduced; and that the nation has the effective civil and military space programs that it requires. Such a process for aligning the nation’s space activities would involve establishing a long-term government commitment and realistic resources, and would define clear roles and responsibilities for government participants, and meaningful relationships with stakeholders outside the government; it would establish lines of authority and accountability, delineating priorities for national resources and leveraging important capabilities to achieve broad national goals. A successful
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs process could provide stability to civil space projects and minimize changes in direction, priorities, and resources until the systemic effects of changes could be understood. An effective process of alignment would lead to space activities that are cohesive, consistent, and persistent and would be shaped from a broad perspective on how civil space activities affect our economy, national security, and world influence. Civil space is often associated with NASA, but increasingly, other federal departments, including the Departments of Commerce and Transportation, have civil space programs. A growing private sector is active, as are important university and industrial research programs. The diffusion of civil space capabilities and responsibilities, however, is both beneficial (contributing to more parts of the economy and tapping the unique expertise of each agency) and problematic (confusing roles, missions, goals, and objectives). There is now both a special need and a special opportunity to align the strategies of the civil space agencies. Because the nation’s space activities—both civil and national security—are not isolated elements but instead interact with the broader aspects of U.S. commerce, transportation, education, and international relations, the process for aligning the nation’s space activities should be well informed concerning the influence civil space already has throughout our society. And, even more important, it should reflect an understanding of the growing role of civil space in our lives. The process should provide a framework for meaningful international relationships in civil space activities while realistically addressing national security priorities such as preventing transfer of militarily sensitive technologies to adversaries abroad. However, the current implementation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) has significantly limited the ability of the United States to exert strategic leadership in civil space. The ITAR regulations have made it difficult for the United States to enter into and execute meaningful cooperative programs in either the human or the robotic exploration of space, and they are judged to have damaged the health of the U.S. aerospace industry.1 The ITAR regulations have pushed other countries to develop indigenous space capabilities and have adversely affected U.S. market share, aerospace employment, and leadership. Since 1999, when communications satellites were moved to the Munitions List, the U.S. market share of satellite manufacturing revenues has dropped from above 60 percent to approximately 50 percent. The U.S. commercial communications satellite manufacturing share has dropped from 90 percent to 50 percent.2 In addition, aside from the adverse civil aspects, several expert assessments have concluded that the current implementation of export control regulations is harming national security rather than helping it. For example, a recent NRC report, 1 See Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Briefing of the Working Group on the Health of the U.S. Space Industrial Base and the Impact of Export Controls,” February 2008, available at http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/021908_csis_spaceindustryitar_final.pdf. 2 Ibid., p. 50.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs Beyond “Fortress America”: National Security Controls on Science and Technology in a Globalized World, found that “current policies … weaken relations with allies, reduce the capability and strength of America’s defense industrial base, and help to create foreign competitors that diminish U.S. market share in critical technologies.”3 A coordinated, sustainable set of strategies should ensure that responsibilities are realistically matched to available resources. Such a match does not exist today. For example, NASA has a central role in civil space, yet by any reasonable measure it is inadequately funded to pursue its many responsibilities.4 NASA now follows the U.S. space exploration policy established in 2004 by then President George W. Bush but must implement that policy within the budget constraints imposed by the Administration and Congress. The committee concurs with the primary conclusion of a 2006 NRC report,5 which summarized the situation by saying: “NASA is being asked to accomplish too much with too little. The agency does not have the necessary resources to carry out the tasks of completing the International Space Station [ISS], returning humans to the Moon, maintaining vigorous space and Earth science and microgravity life and physical sciences programs, and sustaining capabilities in aeronautical research” (p. 2). Rather than requiring that a broad and ambitious program be fit into an arbitrarily constrained budget as has been the case in recent years, a sustainable strategy would first define the program that the nation is committed to undertake and then realistically define the resources that are required to accomplish that program. NOAA faces a similar problem. The agency is charged with operating a space program to meet long-term operational meteorological needs as well as increasing requirements in the areas of climate monitoring and ecosystem management. Unfortunately, the agency’s resources are inadequate to fulfill those roles. NASA transferred its responsibilities for monitoring climate change to NOAA a decade ago, with the expectation that the required instrumentation would be flown on the National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), jointly managed by NOAA and the DOD. NPOESS is now over budget and behind schedule. While some of the climate instruments that had been removed from NPOESS in recent years have been reinstated, a 2009 NRC report concluded that NPOESS 3 National Research Council, Beyond “Fortress America”: National Security Controls on Science and Technology in a Globalized World, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2009. 4 An April 2009 report from the Congressional Budget Office, The Budgetary Implications of NASA’s Current Plans for Space Exploration, concluded that NASA would need an annual average budget of $23.8 billion for the period 2010–2025 in order to meet its commitments, compared to a fiscal year 2009 budget of $18.8 billion, including $1 billion in 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. In testimony before the committee the (then) NASA Administrator, Michael Griffin, estimated that NASA would need approximately $20 billion to $21 billion annually to meet its commitments properly. 5 National Research Council, An Assessment of Balance in NASA’s Science Programs, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs still lacks essential features of a well-designed climate-monitoring system.6 Meanwhile, NASA’s funding for Earth science has declined substantially, leaving the nation with aging and inadequate systems to provide an understanding of the present state and future of Earth’s climate7 despite the one-time infusion of $450 million in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act package for Earth science. In testimony before the committee, former NOAA administrator, VADM Conrad Lautenbacher, indicated that NOAA was not funded adequately to meet its responsibilities in space, particularly over the long term. The budgetary situations faced by NASA and NOAA are a consequence of a trend in recent administrations to view the space program as an isolated stove-pipe, with little or no connection to the nation’s most prominent problems. Civil space programs have largely been assigned budget levels that are incrementally based on previous years’ budgets, with only tenuous connections to the evolution of the programs or their capabilities. An effective process would connect space policy to broader national needs, and then consider the necessary resources and implementation, improve efficiency by considering interdependencies and broad system effects, enhance productivity by providing focus and a longer-term view, and encourage a culture of collaboration among government agencies, the private sector (including both industry and academia), and international partners. This process would then provide a necessary foundation for continuing U.S. space leadership. HIGHLY CAPABLE TECHNICAL WORKFORCE The United States has been a space-faring nation for more than 50 years, and the experienced aerospace workforce that pioneered the exploration of space and engineered notable past accomplishments is quickly retiring. As of February 2009, more than 60 percent of NASA’s full-time permanent employees were at least 45 years old, and nearly one quarter of employees were above 55. Assessments of the U.S. aerospace industry workforce give similar results for private sector employees.8 The urgent need to replenish the aerospace science and engi- 6 National Research Council, Ensuring the Climate Record from the NPOESS and GOES-R Spacecraft: Elements of a Strategy to Recover Measurement Capabilities Lost in Program Restructuring, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2009. 7 According to the 2007 NRC report Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond: “[T]he extraordinary U.S. foundation of global observations is at great risk. Between 2006 and the end of the decade, the number of operating missions will decrease dramatically, and the number of operating sensors and instruments on NASA spacecraft, most of which are well past their nominal lifetimes, will decrease by some 40 percent” (The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., p. 3). 8 While there are similar demographic issues in other federal agencies, data collected in “The Next Gen Space Workforce: Some Data and Questions in Advance of the NASA Strategic Management Council” by Garth Henning and Richard Leshner (NASA, Washington, D.C., April 2008) show that the aerospace sector is significantly different from other industries, such as information technology and telecommunications and finance.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs neering talent pool spans both civil and military space and is particularly critical in the aerospace industry. Civilian and military agencies and private industry are all codependent on the same highly skilled aerospace workforce. A recent NRC report,9 as well as others, also emphasized that certain skill areas, especially systems engineering and project management, are particularly understaffed and vulnerable to further shortages. To address those specific needs, a follow-on NRC report calls for more opportunities to provide hands-on training and experience with spaceflight development programs.10 A strong aerospace engineering workforce is only one component of the overall demand in our country for a strong science and engineering workforce. Aerospace engineering requirements compete nationally for much of the same technically trained talent needed across the broad research and engineering sectors of our country. Unfortunately, the United States is not meeting the consolidated needs for science and engineering expertise. Rising Above the Gathering Storm addressed this issue holistically and concluded that [T]he scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength. We strongly believe that a world-wide strengthening will benefit the world’s economy—particularly in the creation of jobs in countries that are far less well-off than the United States—but we are worried about the future prosperity of the United States. Although many people assume that the United States will always be a world leader in science and technology, this may not continue to be the case inasmuch as great minds and ideas exist throughout the world. We fear the abruptness with which a lead in science and technology can be lost and the difficulty of recovering a lead once lost—if indeed it can be regained at all (p. 3). The committee fully concurs with the findings and recommendations of that report, especially with respect to recruiting and training a skilled technical workforce and supporting long-term, potentially high-payoff basic research. Without a strong, diverse workforce, the civil space program will be unable to meet the opportunities and challenges it faces. INFRASTRUCTURE The myriad accomplishments of the U.S. space program depend on the underlying enabling infrastructure of facilities, organizations, and centers of expertise in government, industry, academia, and other private sector institutions. 9 National Research Council, Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006. 10 National Research Council, Building a Better NASA Workforce: Meeting the Workforce Needs for the National Vision for Space Exploration, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007, pp. 38-43.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs This infrastructure, much of it supported by NASA, was built on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics centers existing at the time of NASA’s founding and was expanded during the ramp-up of the Apollo program. The NASA centers provide unique capabilities essential to the civil space program in the years ahead, including rocket test facilities, spacecraft assembly facilities and flight control centers, and launch facilities, as well as personnel with expertise that universities and industry could not necessarily supply. Some NASA centers have also served historically as incubators for innovation and have acted as repositories for the hard-won knowledge gained from years of experience, successes, and failures in space. Ironically, now that one of the nation’s newest infrastructure assets, the ISS, has been completed, the funding to utilize it is uncertain, and near-term access depends on foreign launch systems. DOD is responsible for the nation’s launch complexes and ranges at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base, which support military launches and which also provide collateral support to NASA and commercial launch operations. It also maintains the worldwide space surveillance network used by all U.S. agencies, as well as commercial and foreign entities, and a satellite command and control network that provides support to civil operations. Like GPS, this military-managed infrastructure is essential to the U.S. civil space program. The DOD also supports cooperative space development testing with its own space facilities in cooperation with NASA and commercial programs. Essential infrastructure is also provided by NOAA, which has an array of tracking stations and data and information systems to conduct its meteorological and environmental satellite observing programs. U.S. universities and both federal and nongovernment laboratories house many of the organizations and facilities where U.S. space science and engineering research is conducted. And of course, it is in university classrooms, laboratories, and many specialized facilities that the technical workforce is educated; some universities have also built and operated satellites. Today, most development and manufacturing facilities and staffs supporting U.S. space activities reside in private industry. U.S. civil space activities thus depend on an infrastructure that spans government, industry, and academia. Now the health of this institutional infrastructure is in question. NASA still maintains 10 large centers, as legacies of its much larger Apollo program more than 40 years ago. Responding to funding limitations and associated political pressures, NASA has elected to focus its support on its own centers but has strained to maintain all of these facilities, their staffs, and their programs. The strain has forced reductions in funds for research within NASA and in the supporting academic and industrial sectors as well. As a result, the broad national capabilities in universities and in industry have atrophied and are underutilized—and in some instances imperiled—with serious consequences for U.S. capabilities for future innovation. In the case of universities, where research and education are pursued synergistically, the proper training of the aerospace workforce is in jeopardy. In the
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs academic sector, the fact that NASA has terminated some university-based efforts has adversely affected not only the conduct of research but also the pipeline of undergraduate and graduate students upon which the civil space community depends—an unintended, but nonetheless alarming, consequence. When the NASA centers and other government installations are leveraged along with the talent in universities and the capabilities and facilities of the aerospace industry, a powerful capacity exists to accomplish extraordinary civil space missions. A healthy U.S. civil space program should be able to optimize the participation and responsibilities of all three involved sectors—government, industry, and academia. Such an optimized institutional partnership would Develop and nurture a culture of cooperation achieved through sharing of facilities and intellectual capacity; Ensure that facilities—at NASA, NOAA, and elsewhere—are sized, maintained, and distributed properly so as to be vital components of a larger civil space enterprise without their maintenance becoming an impediment to a balanced division of resources within and outside the agencies; Provide necessary support for facilities, human capital, technology transition, innovation, and entrepreneurial activities; and Regularly assess mission performance, technical expertise, and the strengths of interactions across all three sectors. TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION Future U.S. leadership in space requires a foundation of sustained technology advances that can enable the development of more capable, reliable, and lower-cost spacecraft and launch vehicles to achieve space program goals. A strong advanced technology development foundation is needed also to enhance technology readiness of new missions, mitigate their technological risks, improve the quality of cost estimates, and thereby contribute to better overall mission cost management. Space research and development efforts can take advantage of advances from other fields—and can contribute back to those fields. For example, civil space programs can benefit from and contribute to the state of the art in advanced materials, computational design and modeling, batteries and other energy-storage devices, fuel-cell and compact nuclear power systems, fault-tolerant electronics, optics, and robotics. This scientific synergy extends the ability to accomplish more capable and dramatic missions in space, as well as to contribute to broader national interests driving innovation in other areas of terrestrial application. The unique challenges of the space environment make demands on technology in ways that often accelerate the development pace and advance the understanding of the foundations of technologies.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs The responsibility to provide for this advanced technology base for civil space activities rests with NASA, in partnership with universities, other government agencies, and industry. The “customers” for the products of technology are NASA, NOAA, industry, and military space programs in which multiple-use technology is applicable. Because of budget pressures and institutional priorities, however, NASA has largely abandoned its role in supporting the broad portfolio of civil space applications, and the space technology base has thus been allowed to erode and is now deficient. The former NASA advanced technology development program no longer exists. Most of what remained was moved to the Constellation Program and has become oriented specifically to risk reduction supporting the ongoing internal development program.11 To fulfill NASA’s broader mandate, an independent advanced technology development effort is required, much like that accomplished by DARPA in the DOD, focused not so much on technology that today’s program managers require but on what future program managers would wish they could have if they knew they needed it, or would want if they knew they could have it. This effort should engage the best science and engineering talent in the country wherever it resides—in universities, industry, NASA centers, or other government laboratories—independent of pressures to sustain competency at the NASA centers. A DARPA-like organization established within NASA should report to NASA’s Administrator, be independent of ongoing NASA development programs, and focus on supporting the broad civil space portfolio through the competitive funding of world-class technology and innovation projects at universities, federally funded research and development centers, government research laboratories, and NASA centers. A solid technology base is essential to the U.S. civil space program. Yet financial support for this technology base has eroded over the years. The United States is now living on the innovation funded in the past and has an obligation to replenish this foundational element. Furthermore, the synergy between research and education will yield even greater benefits if funding supports an extramural program at U.S. universities. University research ensures a diverse approach, connection to a broad research community, and encouragement of a pipeline of technically talented men and women for the U.S. workforce. SUMMARY COMMENTS Four foundational elements—an integrated strategy, a highly capable technical workforce, an effectively sized infrastructure, and a priority investment in 11 National Research Council, A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs technology and innovation—are necessary for a robust and productive U.S. civil space program. In the annual discussions of individual programs and agency budgets, these elements are not often mentioned, and if they are it is usually in some small aside. However, the U.S. civil space program would have more effect, a broader reach, and a greater connection to the American people if senior officials paid more attention to these elements.