Dave Weldon speaks about space policy
We are all painfully aware that the launch rate for our commercial missions has not matched the heady expectations of the mid 1990’s. Also, the supposed “growth market” of space tourism is on hold indefinitely. I would like to simply state something that hopefully will start to get others thinking in new ways about space.
In a 1950’s RAND study on the possible uses of space: communication, navigation, intelligence collection, and meteorological observation were listed as likely applications.
The good news is, we’ve realized all of those opportunities in space today. The bad news is no one has come up with anything radically new since then. Entrepreneurial thoughts are the first step to helping pick up the commercial space business. I know there are efforts underway to bring down the cost of launch and it is my belief that that will have an exciting stimulus effect on the commercial market.
Also with the economy picking up, people will start spending money on new satellite systems, especially in the developing world. I am confident that we will weather this current spell and come out even better. Actually, adversity tends to stimulate innovation!
Around 18 months ago, Secretary Rumsfeld designated the Air Force to be custodian for overall DoD space operations and development. I am happy to say that the DoD space budget has gone from a FY 2001 budget of $14.3 Billion to a FY 2004 Bush request of $20.4 Billion and is projected to reach $28.6 Billion in 2008. I remain concerned about a few programs that are under the Air Force, and I want to say a few quick words about some of those.
As always, the ranges continue to be an area of concern. We have the brand new EELVs, yet we will still have an outmoded range to handle them. I am also concerned with the funding problems continuing in the out years. I would like to see the USAF, now that RSA is in a “strategic pause”, reevaluate range modernization and come up with an out-of-the-box solution.
I want to congratulate Boeing and Lockheed Martin on successful missions and inaugurating a new era in American space launch: the EELV. Sadly, the business model that was the corner stone of EELV, the commercial industry, as I mentioned earlier, has not materialized. This is resulting in higher costs of operation for industry.
I have communicated to Jerry Lewis, chairman of DoD appropriations, that Congress needs to work with the Pentagon and industry on this issue. If this burden remains, it could force one of the providers out of business. We cannot go down to just one launch provider in this country.
I think EELVs could very well become the backbones of a robust, lower cost space capability for not just DoD but civilian efforts as well. Obviously we are already talking about launching the Orbital Space Plane on an EELV. I believe there may be other missions for the EELVs that we can develop in the years ahead.
It has been said that Operation: Desert Storm was the first space war. With Operation: Iraqi Freedom, I think we have seen military space operations evolve into the next stage of maturity. In fact, I think it is fair to say that space has been so well integrated into the battlefield commander’s capabilities as to be almost taken for granted.
Just put yourself in the middle of the battlefield: You will see commanders communicating up the chain of command exchanging massive amounts of valuable, secure data on a real time basis via satellite. Highly sophisticated weapons are being directed with pinpoint accuracy through the use of satellites. Troops know when weather conditions at their location and at the target are just right for engagement of the enemy because of satellites. And, enemy movement, size and equipment are revealed through the use of our surveillance satellites.
Our tremendous success in Operation: Iraqi Freedom can be credited to the tremendous work of our men and women in uniform and the weapons, tools and equipment they were able to bring to bear in that conflict. Our space capabilities were part of that and all the people involved in supporting our military space programs can be proud of that accomplishment.