The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

White House
The next president will have a number of space issues his administration will have to grapple with, from the future of NASA to the promotion of space commerce. (credit: J. Foust)

Space policy questions and decisions facing a new administration

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Is United States space leadership in the world productive?

United States government leadership in space is not seen as productive by others. The United States government cannot be a leader if no one will follow. Today, the United States is not seen as a good partner in space.


  • The position of the United States in world affairs is influenced by leadership in space. Given the many issues and challenges the space community faces, leadership is by no means assured.
  • In order to identify and meet the challenges in security, commercial, and civil space productive United States government space leadership is indispensable.
  • Leadership requires that the United States develop a strategic vision for space to guide space policy decisions, which is supported by strong executive leadership, and effective interagency and government-industry partnerships.
  • International participation in security space is important. There is a need for the United States to think more about international engagement in the strategic response to the domain of space. It is not a “go-it-alone problem.” The United States government has not given sufficient indication that the strategy is to include allies in national space policy.
  • Space represents a “soft power” foreign policy tool. Space is an international drawing card that engenders national prestige, prevents conflict, and is a domain for international cooperation.

Policy Choice
Facilitate space leadership through the current approach that is committed to bilateral space cooperation or expand prospects for space leadership through multilateral international engagement and soft power.

  • A commitment to the policy of bilateral space cooperation as the primary means to project space leadership offers greater political flexibility for the United States government in determining courses of action to meet national interests. Multilateral engagement limits national security space options. Bilateral approaches do, at times, make United States space leadership ineffective, but this is a trade-off with the ability to better retain operational flexibility in space.
  • A commitment to multilateral international engagement facilitates a means to address a number of challenges from space protection, global space commerce, space governance, and civil space exploration. For space protection, a multilateral approach allows for collective security approaches and rules of road to mitigate the vulnerabilities of space assets. Space governance and global space commerce are supported through multilateral engagement on establishing international standards that address space environmental issues. Civil space exploration benefits from lending political support to the Global Space Exploration Strategy that helps to advance the United States Space Exploration Policy.
  • Productive United States space leadership requires a commitment to smart power. Smart power in this context is the integration of hard power and soft power in the demonstration of spacepower. Leadership through hard power is addressed by a multilateral approach to space protection. The key for soft power is a global perspective. This necessitates a renewed commitment to space diplomacy and strategic communications with soft power ends. Space leadership is exhibited through soft power by partnering with other states to address global space-related challenges, like orbital debris proliferation and potentially hazardous Near Earth Objects.

Is there an educational and workforce crisis in aerospace?

An important element of space leadership is about education and workforce development. Space education and workforce development are foundational issues for anything the United States wants to do in space now and in the future.


  • A qualified and energized workforce is a priority for the current National Space Policy put forward by President Bush in 2006. There are many other studies supported by government and industry that support this priority.
  • A robust industrial base depends on addressing educational and workforce development issues. As capability in the industrial sector erodes, due to issues related to export controls, a lack of education in technical and scientific disciplines, and insufficient workforce development, the government sector erodes as well.
  • Close to 30% of all graduate students in science and engineering disciplines in universities and colleges in the United States are foreign nationals. At the post-doctorate level, the percentage of foreign nationals in science and engineering disciplines climbs to 60%.
  • There is “brain drain” across the space sectors. Approximately 30% of the engineering and science workforce in the United States is eligible to retire.
  • Space professional development is in need of improvement.

Policy Choice
Maintain support for the National Space Policy priority on space education and workforce development or build upon this priority by formulating policies and laws to bring about a national commitment to education in science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines.

  • Establish clear imperatives to motivate and recruit tomorrow’s engineers and scientists. This is necessary to sustain the long-term availability of educated Americans for both government and industry. The United States Space Exploration Policy is a good model to help accomplish this end. Additional consideration needs to be given to other ways to motivate and recruit. This entails addressing global infrastructural challenges, like alternative energy production from space, e.g., space based solar power, as a national goal. A challenge of this magnitude can motivate and inspire technical and scientific education as the Apollo program did for the United States in the 1960s.
  • Near-term workforce issues must be addressed due to the anticipated retirement numbers in aerospace over the next several years. A prudent course of action in the near-term, until there are a sufficient numbers of educated American nationals for government and industry aerospace work, is to increase quotas on H-1B visas (professional in a specialty occupation visa) to match aerospace industrial needs. In this way, foreign national talent enrolled in graduate programs in the United States can be used for national purposes to ensure a robust space industrial base. Also, Better professional development is in need of government support and encouragement in program and project management, systems engineering, and spacecraft development.
  • Emphasize a national commitment to education in the science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines. A fruitful model to formulate a national commitment is the National Defense Education Act of 1958 that led to educational reforms, academic and curriculum development, and fostered education in the foundational disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math) for space.

Is international governance of the space environment effective?

Space is more crowded, not just physically, but also electronically. The number of items in orbit is a concern, and the possibility of electronic encroachment is a problem. Effective international governance to address these issues is needed.


  • The space environment posits a mission cost to mitigate environmental dangers, like orbital debris proliferation. There are issues related to scarcity of resources and their efficient use, such as in the area of electromagnetic spectrum allocations.
  • International standards address many of the space environmental issues and challenges, and are necessary for space businesses to exercise due diligence in their safety and liability concerns, and legal obligations.
  • Space traffic management requires attention as there is currently no United States government policy or any set of international rules of the road. This is of growing concern as space is crowded with more commercial and governmental players worldwide.
  • Improved governance of space depends on the ways space situational awareness data is shared between governments and commercial entities. The current United States government approach to data sharing is the Commercial and Foreign Entities program.

Policy Choice
Establish more effective international governance of the space environment by supporting voluntary approaches or by formal institutional means.

  • International governance of the space environment is based on voluntary approaches to avoid interference with space assets, to deal with orbital debris, and to share space situational awareness data. The President needs to support codification of these voluntary approaches. This entails a renewed commitment to adhere to the orbital debris guidelines published by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee, and to continue to advance the Commercial and Foreign Entities program. Voluntary approaches do impose limitations on effective international governance of the space environment in that there is uncertainty on the expected behavior in space, such as no rules of the road, that make international governance of electronic encroachment of satellite data and space traffic management more difficult. This difficulty supports the view that space is contested and that the United States retain the right to deny others the use of space.
  • Presidential support for formal institutional approaches to international governance of the space environment facilitates a number of positive developments. Internationally agreed upon rules of road allow for more effective governance since spacefaring states mutually agree on how to behave in the space environment and realize a consensus view on what is peaceful and what is not. This addresses the challenges of electronic encroachment and international space law that spacefaring states are not to interfere with the space asserts of others. Formal approaches to orbital debris and space traffic management alleviate how to govern these issues, and overcome the limitations that voluntary ways forward encounter. A formal political commitment to international governance brings with it political value, such as collective regimes for space security and United States Space leadership through soft power elements associated with spacepower and smart power. Concomitantly, there are operational constraints in what the United Sates can do in space with multilateral means to space governance.

What is the most effective government role in space commerce?

United States government support for space commerce development is largely confined to cost plus contracting with the aerospace industry. This approach limits competitive commercial development, constrains technological innovation, and contributes to the loss of United States leadership in global space commerce.


  • The predominance of the United States government as a user of space creates economic opportunities in the form of contracts to support a robust aerospace industrial sector. These contracts are leveraged to transfer technology and know-how acquired in developing United States government space systems to commercial space systems.
  • Further consideration needs to be given by the United States government to other, non-contracting ways to leverage and foster space commerce development.
  • The creation of public-private partnerships that are directed toward developing space technologies can dramatically change the space commerce landscape. Partnerships between the government, and private space companies and non-space companies are important.

Policy Choice
Maintain a national space policy commitment to space commercial development or build upon that commitment by supporting public-private partnerships to foster commercial space development.

  • Maintain a national space policy commitment to foster space commerce development. This entails a renewed commitment to encourage fixed price and reward-based contacting, procurement of commercial services, as opposed to physical systems, and lending political support to legislative initiatives in the United States Congress that call for taxed-based incentives and prizes to incentivize space commerce development. Presidential support for the following congressional initiatives furthers national space policy in the area of commercial space– Space Tourism Promotion Act; Zero Gravity Zero Tax Bill; Invest in Space Now Act; and the Spaceport Equality Act. Support for an expansion of congressional funding of prizes, like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Grand Challenge and NASA’s Centennial Challenges, advances national space policy directed at fostering space commerce development.
  • A commitment to expand public-private partnerships in the space arena paves the way for space infrastructural development. One example is the contracting undertaken by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency with new space companies to develop technologies of interest to security space. NASA is implementing partnerships with the private sector as exemplified by the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services and Space Act Agreements with new space companies. A further expansion of such relationships and support for new public-private-partnerships fosters emerging space businesses and efforts in areas ranging from operational responsive space, smallsats, reusable launch, and space tourism to developing areas in space based solar power, space based zero-gravity manufacturing research, propellant depots, and point-to-point sub-orbital travel. These technologies, if supported and developed with the help of the United States government, will be contributors to the long-term national security and prosperity of the United States, and will benefit global security concerns and the global economy.