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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs 1 From Sputnik and Apollo to Today’s Globalized Environment For many, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) fulfilled the task set for it by President Kennedy when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin unfurled the U.S. flag on the surface of the Moon and returned safely to Earth in late July 1969. In the 40 years since, memories of Apollo, buoyed by achievements such as the first space shuttle flights, the launch and later repair of the immensely useful and long-lived Hubble Space Telescope, and the successful Mars rover missions, among others, have helped to sustain the space program’s strong appeal both in the United States and internationally. While its breadth has grown, however, the U.S. civil space program has also in many ways become unfocused and out of touch with important needs of the taxpayers that support it. The cornerstone of the nation’s civil space policy is the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. Passed largely as a response to the 1957 launch of Sputnik and in recognition of scientific proposals for U.S. participation in the International Geophysical Year, the act established NASA, and presented the new agency with a broad set of objectives, including the expansion of human knowledge, the development and operation of space vehicles, the long-range studies of potential benefits to be gained from space activities, interagency and international cooperation, and the preservation of the U.S. preeminent position in aeronautics and space. NASA has been extraordinarily successful in making progress toward those goals, which today remain as compelling and appropriate as ever. Throughout the space age, strategic global considerations have provided the primary context for U.S. space activities. The primary rationale for the signature accomplishment of the civil space program, the Apollo Moon landings, was to prove to the world the superiority of American technology and innovation and, by inference, American society. Today, both the civil space program and the nation
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs at large are considering significant reforms and policy innovations as the nation faces a series of complex challenges related to ensuring national security, providing clean and affordable energy, protecting the environment, meeting 21st-century needs for education, sustaining global economic competitiveness, and promoting beneficial international relations. Awareness is widespread that the time has come to reassess and, in some cases, reinvent and refocus national institutions. In a time of substantial rearrangement of budgets and of national priorities, when once again objectives rather than process dominate the debate over resource allocation, it is the conclusion of the committee that the U.S. civil space program is an essential national resource with the potential to substantially address pressing national needs. In this context, and responding to its charge, the committee sought to address the top-level goals of the civil space program and the connection between those goals and broad national priorities. Therefore, the committee focused on the long-term, strategic value of a U.S. civil space program, and the report does not address nearer-term issues that affect the conduct of U.S. space activities other than to provide a context in which more tactical decisions might be made. EVOLVING SPACE POLICY IN A NEW GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT In December 1990, the report of the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program1 recognized the effect of the fall of communism on the civil space program. The report recommended that space science should become the high-priority NASA program and that two mission-oriented programs—Mission to Planet Earth and Mission from Planet Earth—should share second priority. By the dawn of the new millennium, there was no single, dominant rationale for the space program, and in particular for the human spaceflight program. NASA remained generally popular with the public, but few knew much about what the agency was doing or what its goals were. The Columbia accident in February 2003 was the catalyst for a new space exploration policy (the Vision for Space Exploration) that attempted to bring policy clarity to the broader space exploration program. NASA was directed to reorient its activities and today is preparing to extend the sphere of human activity beyond the International Space Station and low Earth orbit, starting with a return to the Moon. Congress supported the new exploration vision in the NASA Authorization Acts of 2005 and 2008, but emphasized that NASA has vital, independently important responsibilities in aeronautics, Earth science, and space science in addition to human spaceflight. The world today is characterized by intertwined economies and transnational benefits to enjoy but also serious transnational problems to confront, from terrorism to global economic crisis to climate change. Mutual dependencies coexist with national and commercial competition and rivalries. 1 Report of the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program, December 1990.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs Political considerations, domestic and foreign, continue to play a key role in civil space. Even in today’s multipolar and increasingly interconnected world, the global competitiveness of the U.S. aerospace industry has been significantly hindered by what are generally acknowledged to be outdated and oftentimes counterproductive International Traffic in Arms Regulations.2 Further, which countries the United States chooses to partner with in space is influenced by foreign policy considerations. National security considerations regularly prevail over desires for international scientific collaborations. The United States can no longer base the foreign policy aspects of space activities on the assumption of being the first choice for global partnerships based on its unchallengeable dominance. We are no longer in a position to control the space technology that is available and is increasingly being developed in other nations. As a result, the United States is no longer the only, or in some cases even the best, option for countries interested in space partnerships. Rather, as with other aspects of globalization, U.S. leadership in space activities must be based on the competitiveness of our capabilities; the attractiveness of our ingenuity, entrepreneurialism, and willingness to take risks; and our recognition of mutual interdependencies. The scientific context also is quite different today from what it was even a decade ago. The growing realization that Earth’s climate is changing and that human actions are likely largely responsible for those variations3 is altering perceptions of the planet on which we live and heightening the importance of monitoring Earth’s properties and understanding the processes that govern them. Recent astronomical discoveries (e.g., of extrasolar planets and dark energy) are overturning the established view of the universe. Similarly, observations by the Mars rovers and orbiters suggest that Mars may have been able to harbor life at some time in its history and, thus, may provide a new perspective on life as we know it. Communications and remote sensing satellites, largely originated through investments by NASA, have become viable commercial activities. Building on early successes, the capacity of the space program to contribute solutions to important issues of national interest has broadened even as the initial narrow geopolitical imperative for the program waned. Although the national perception of the space program to a large extent harkens back to the legacy of Apollo, the committee argues in this report that the U.S. civil space program has evolved to become essential to our national welfare and is strategically vital to the United States. 2 See National Research Council, Beyond “Fortress America”: National Security Controls on Science and Technology in a Globalized World, The National Academies Press, 2009, and “Briefing of the Working Group on the Health of the U.S. Space Industrial Base and the Impact of Export Controls,” CSIS, Feb. 2008, available at http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/021908_csis_spaceindustryitar_final.pdf. 3 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007, IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Summary for Policy Makers, 2007; available at http://www.ipcc.ch.
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs A civil space program that is focused on creating knowledge and proving new and innovative ideas can build on the legacy of the nation’s great research and development push during the Apollo era while better responding to the nation’s needs today. Basic scientific research in space will plant the seeds of another generation of knowledge-based growth. Incubating new technologies for space activities, demonstrating their utility, and disseminating them broadly, will help spur the innovation and economic growth on which U.S. leadership must now be based. THE U.S. CIVIL SPACE PROGRAM For the purposes of this study, civil space includes all government, commercial, academic, and private space activities not directly intended for national security use by the military or intelligence communities. The interrelationships between civil and military space are complex. Civil and military space technology, and the underlying scientific and industrial base, have supported each other since the beginning of the space age, and the dual-use nature of space technology makes robust technology innovation critical to both civil and national security space efforts. The dual-use nature of space technology also, however, makes it very difficult to separate civil and national security space by system or function. For example, an imaging spacecraft can be used to make commercial maps, to manage disaster relief, or to select targets for precision strikes. Therefore, this report’s definition of civil space relies on intended use and participants, rather than on capabilities. The United States, by policy and legislation, developed and maintains separate space sectors. Most other space-faring states do not distinguish between the two, but justify funding for specific space systems based on satisfying multiple needs, both civil and security. There are numerous areas of coordination between the U.S. civil and national security sectors—launch range operations, space surveillance, weather satellite constellation, Global Positioning System signal structure, component standardization, and more—and both sectors use the same U.S. industrial base and workforce. However, from the very beginning of the space age, U.S. presidents and Congress felt that keeping national security and civil space activities separate was sufficiently important to justify the expense of a certain amount of duplication and inefficiency. The federal civil space program has grown beyond a single government agency focused on putting humans in space and now also encompasses programs in multiple agencies. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) are major users of space assets and the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Homeland Security as well as the National Science Foundation and numerous other organizations are important beneficiaries. The U.S. civil space program is instrumental in addressing a wide variety of problems—from long-term climate change to finding the fastest route
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs for local emergency responders in the United States and around the world—and it provides an effective means to influence progress and economic opportunity on a worldwide scale. NOAA operates a constellation of weather, climate, and environmental monitoring satellites. The Department of Transportation is responsible for regulating and promoting a commercial space sector, now including space tourism. The Federal Communications Commission licenses orbital positions and spectrum use by commercial satellites and advocates for U.S. commercial space in international forums. Many federal agencies rely on data gathered by both government and commercial spacecraft. Civil space includes research at universities and nonprofit institutes, which provide ideas, build scientific experiments, interpret results, and educate and inspire the next-generation workforce. Commercial communications and remote sensing satellites have become an essential component of the basic infrastructure of the world. Satellites support worldwide communications, providing a critical backbone for daily commerce—carrying billions of global financial transactions, for example. Direct broadcasting brings television signals into homes globally, delivering the images that bring awareness, unprecedented in human history, of events that are occurring throughout the world. The military global positioning satellites provide ubiquitous signals that support a stunning variety of functions, from assisting in the navigation of civilian airplanes and shipping, and allowing individuals to find their way in automobiles, to transmitting timing signals that enable cell phone and power grid switching, as well as conducting geographically dispersed scientific experiments—all simultaneously. Remote sensing satellites obtain high-resolution images from around the world, available now on the Internet. Other commercial space activities are nascent but hold the promise of new industries that will exploit the opportunities in space. Civil space participants abroad include governments and commercial activities in the European Space Agency (and a number of individual European countries, particularly France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom), Canada, Japan, Russia, South Korea, India, China, Iran, Israel, and Brazil. Sometimes, much to the consternation of the United States, the dual-use nature of the technology makes it difficult to distinguish civil space activities from those of potential value to military space activities, complicating potential cooperative opportunities in space, commercial transactions with U.S. aerospace companies, and foreign relations in general. Private space enthusiasm has evolved into an astounding constellation of activities. Amateur astronomers track satellites, and some discover comets and other objects and observe transient phenomena. Space artists, popular broadcast programs and film, and print and electronic media articles broaden the reach of data collected. Full Web access to data and images from exploration spacecraft has built a large public community. Privately funded entrepreneurs have begun to
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America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs test concepts for a space tourism industry, and privately funded prize competitions are engaging the American entrepreneurial spirit in new space activities. Civil space activities have evolved to have a depth and breadth that are now essential to our national welfare and culture and are strategically vital to the United States. Given the background summarized earlier and the committee’s adopted definition of civil space activities, the remainder of this report will outline the committee’s conclusions. The next chapter presents the principal rationales and top-level goals for civil space activities and discusses how those goals will make important long-term contributions in the national interest. The civil space program must be able to depend on a number of key resources or foundational elements to be able to achieve the goals. There also are significant challenges and impediments compromising the nation’s ability to support the foundational elements and/or to reach the proposed goals. The foundational elements and the impediments, many of which cut across all of the goals, are discussed in Chapter 3. Finally, Chapter 4 presents the committee’s recommendations for actions that are needed to remove the impediments, sustain the foundational elements, and permit the nation to meet the goals for civil space activities. In responding to its charge, the committee sought to provide a long-term, strategic perspective that frames a vision for civil space activities that can endure for many years. Consequently, this report does not address nearer-term issues other than to provide a long-term context in which more tactical decisions might be made. Rather, it considers how civil space activities serve the national interest and what actions are needed at a strategic level to meet those broad objectives.