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Vice President Mike Pence at the December 9 meeting of the National Space Council, where the new national space policy was announced. (credit: White House)

Comparing the 2010 and 2020 National Space Policies


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The US National Space Policy, issued by the White House, is an enunciation of the principles and goals by which the US will engage in space activities. On December 9, the Trump White House issued a National Space Policy (the 2020 policy) to replace the National Space Policy issued by the Obama White House in 2010 (the 2010 policy). A careful analysis of the two policies reveals that the 2020 policy builds upon and expands many of the 2010 policy’s objectives in a natural evolutionary arc, demonstrating that the exploration and utilization of space is truly nonpartisan.

The modifications introduced in 2020 feature five main themes:

  • The strong endorsement and promotion of the recovery and use of outer space resources.
  • In association with the established concept of “purposeful interference” with space systems, the introduction of “deliberate response.”
  • The continued promotion of US leadership in the commercial space industry via regulatory reform under the Commerce Department.
  • A shift in immediate focus to a sustainable human presence on the Moon while maintaining the future goal of reaching Mars.
  • An emphasis on cohesion among US intelligence and defense agencies while expanding cybersecurity measures.
The underlying tone of the principles outlined in the 2020 policy mirror those of its earlier counterpart.

This article offers a high-level comparison of the fundamental principles and goals outlined in each of the two policies: a review which reveals a progressive continuity. We urge the Biden Administration to endorse and support these principles, shared by both previous administrations, because of their benefit to not just Americans, but humankind as a whole.

Homage to President Eisenhower

The aspiration to benefit humankind lies at the core of the American space program and United States space policy. President Eisenhower ushered in the space age with a “conviction that [the US] and other nations have a great responsibility to promote the peaceful use of space and to utilize the new knowledge obtainable from space science and technology for the benefit of all [hu]mankind.” No US President has deviated from this foundational concept and, indeed, both the 2010 and 2020 documents commence with a quote from the same former president. The 2010 quote evokes President Eisenhower’s view that “exploring the mysteries of outer space” will “improve [the human] way of living on Earth.” The 2020 quote highlights the burden that comes with being a spacefaring nation: the US “and other nations have a great responsibility to promote the peaceful use of outer space and to utilize the knowledge obtainable from space science and technology for the benefit of all [hu]mankind.”[1]

Principles

The similarities continue. The underlying tone of the principles outlined in the 2020 policy mirror those of its earlier counterpart. Both space policies recognize the “shared interests of all nations” to act in a way that ensures safety and sustainability of space operations for all. In spreading the benefits of space science and technology, both policies identify the importance of a “robust and competitive commercial space sector” while also reaffirming that all American space activities will be conducted in accordance with international law.

Nevertheless, the 2020 policy introduces three new principles: (1) confirming the US position, first iterated by President Obama, that resources in space may be extracted and utilized for private purposes; (2) providing that any “purposeful interference with or attack upon” US space objects or those of US allies will be met with a deliberate response; and (3) averring that the US will expand its leadership in space exploration alongside “nations that share its democratic values, respect for human rights, and economic freedom.”[2]

The 2020 policy language regarding commercial entities’ ability to extract and own space resources[3] is a natural progression of US space policy, following the enactment by the Obama Administration of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 that first declared the US interpretation of the Outer Space Treater (OST) to permit the commercial recovery of space resources.[4] The 2020 policy echoes its predecessor’s principle to employ a variety of measures “consistent with the inherent right of self defense” to deter, counter, and defeat interference and attacks on US or allied space objects.[5] Given increasing tensions and recent Russian ASAT tests,[6] the 2020 policy logically extended this principle, indicating that “any purposeful interference with or an attack upon” US or allied space systems “directly affects national rights” and will “be met with a deliberate response at a time, place, manner, and domain of our choosing.”[7] Lastly, the 2020 policy expands upon 2010’s policy of international collaboration by adding a new principle of expanding leadership alongside nations that share its “democratic values, respect for human rights, and economic freedom.”[8] This final principle is assuredly meant to facilitate US efforts under the newly signed Artemis Accords.

Goals

In line with Eisenhower’s original vision, the goals of both policies aim to expand international cooperation in a way which makes the benefits of space technology accessible to all people.[9] Such international cooperation is also crucial to creating a safe, stable, and sustainable space environment—another policy goal—and is to be facilitated by, inter alia, information sharing and mitigation of orbital debris.[10] In doing so, these policies also aim to increase the assurance and resilience of critical national functions enabled by commercial, civil, scientific, and national security spacecraft.[11]

The primary difference of the 2020 policy regarding international cooperation is to encourage international support for the recovery and use of outer space resources to foster a robust US commercial space industry.

However, the 2020 policy expands upon its predecessor with four new goals: (1) extending human economic activity into deep space; (2) increasing the quality of life for all humanity; (3) preservation and expansion of US leadership; and (4) encouraging and upholding the right of nations to use space responsibly and peacefully.[12] Extending human economic activity into deep space builds upon the goal to “explore our solar system and the universe beyond.”[13] Likewise, increasing the quality of life can be said to “increase humanity’s understanding of the Earth.”[14] The 2020 policy then aims to preserve US leadership in international partnerships already established under the 2010 administration.[15] Lastly, the 2020 policy’s goal to uphold the rights of nations to use space peacefully and responsibly certainly furthers the peaceful use of space, a goal of the 2010 policy. In short, while the 2020 National Space Policy added four goals to those of 2010, those goals all stem from and help implement the goals laid down in 2010. As these goals are beneficial to not just Americans, but mankind as a whole, the incoming administration should strongly consider continuing these goals and principles laid down in previous National Space Policies.

Cross sector guidelines

The 2020 Policy builds upon the foundation of its 2010 predecessor, expanding the original mandates in three key areas: (1) resource extraction, (2) involvement of the commercial sector, and (3) the deliberate response principle. These “Cross Sector Guidelines” (labeled “Intersector Guidelines” in the 2010 policy) are to be followed by the heads of all executive departments and agencies, consistent with applicable law and their various missions. The 2020 policy formally states the previous administration’s stance on resource extraction, first implemented via domestic legislation.[16] In 2020, an even greater emphasis is placed on cultivating a domestic commercial space sector for the US. The deliberate response principle is a key expansion of the 2010 policy’s directive to lead in “responsive behavior,” by clarifying the point at which retaliation will occur. This line, coined “purposeful interference,” also includes cyberattacks, and there is a corresponding emphasis on cybersecurity throughout the 2020 policy which was not present in its predecessor. These changes represent logical progressions in accordance with and pursuit of the principles and goals shared by both policies.

Resource extraction

The primary difference of the 2020 policy regarding international cooperation is to encourage international support for the recovery and use of outer space resources to foster a robust US commercial space industry. The inclusion of this guidance is squarely in response to the 2015 law enabling American citizens to recover and take title to outer space resources.[17] The US will cooperate with likeminded nations in order to establish procedures for responsible space activity of this sort.[18] The 2020 policy strengthens the 2010 version’s commitment to “long-term preservation of the space environment for human activity and use” by directing that planetary protection guidelines are established via an interagency process.[19]

To that end, both policies contain guidance aimed at strengthening US leadership in space. Under both, the US is to demonstrate its leadership in space-related activities while simultaneously reassuring allies of commitments to collective self-defense.[20] The US is also to lead in safety, security, and responsive behavior in space. In strengthening US leadership in space activities, the government shall facilitate new market opportunities for US commercial space capabilities and services.[21] Promotion of policies that internationally facilitate open and timely access to government data is also directed.[22] The US is also permitted to use foreign services to augment current capabilities.[23] In doing so, the policies direct the US to pursue transparency and confidence building measures to encourage responsible actions in, and peaceful use of space.[24]

Commercial involvement and sustainability

Agencies are to improve their partnerships “through cooperation, collaboration, information sharing and alignment of common pursuits to achieve United States goals.”[25] The primary difference under this section is that the 2020 policy seeks to strengthen and encourage such partnerships with the US commercial space sector.[26] The 2020 version also incorporates the National Space Council in this process.[27] These entities should work together to facilitate the exchange of expertise among agencies, which in turn strengthens the nation’s ability to pursue its goals.[28]

The US, under both versions, is to provide space situational awareness (SSA) data, key to space traffic management, free of direct user fees in order to facilitate both commercial and international operations.[29] America will also pursue commercial and foreign suppliers of SSA in order to better equip the world with collision avoidance measures.[30] The 2020 policy builds upon the 2010’s mandate to “reduce hazards” by limiting the creating of new debris as well as pursuing technology to actively remove debris currently in orbit.[31] Additionally, the 2020 version builds upon 2010’s mandate to explore nuclear power systems by directing the Secretary of Commerce to promote responsible commercial sector via investment, innovation, and operations of nuclear systems.[32]

It is clear from the 2020 policy’s emphasis on cybersecurity, a concept mostly absent from its predecessor, that the notion of “purposeful interference” now also includes cyberattacks.

Protection of spacecraft radiofrequencies from interference is also key to the freedom of exploration in space and a goal of both the 2010 and 2020 policies. The two policies aim to enhance capabilities in the way of radiocommunications through research and development and coordinate with commercial entities in this regard.[33] However, only the 2020 version encourages the US government to “streamline regulatory impediments that may discourage commercial space operators from obtaining licenses in the US.”[34] Such deregulation likely comes in the wake of the Swarm Technologies launch of US objects without FCC authorization.[35] Both international and domestic coordination in the way of radiocommunications greatly add to the sustainability of space and the expansion of its benefits to all humankind.

In expanding these benefits of space exploration, both policies aim to strengthen US leadership in space-related science and technology as well as mandating agencies encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in the commercial space sector.[36] The 2010 policy’s directive to help to ensure the availability of space related industrial capabilities in support of critical government functions,[37] was further expanded by the 2020 policy. The 2020 version charges agencies with the additional responsibilities of: (1) identifying key suppliers and manufacturers and incentivizing them to remain in or return to the US; (2) supporting innovation via deregulation; (3) strengthening the security, integrity, and reliability of US supply chains; and (4) incorporating cybersecurity principles throughout.[38] The reason for this expanded role in supply chain management is the goal to “preserve and expand US leadership” in space technology.

Purposeful interference and the deliberate response principle

Only the 2020 policy contains a subsection regarding the safeguard of space components of critical infrastructure. This section, most notably, states:

The US will develop strategies, capabilities, and options to respond to any purposeful interference with or attack on the space systems of the United States or its allies that directly affects national rights, especially those necessary for the operation of the Nation's critical infrastructure. Such strategies, capabilities, and options will allow for a deliberate response at a time, place, manner, and domain of its choosing.

While the concept of this response capability may seem new in 2020, it was in fact alluded to under the 2010 policy’s directive to “lead in the enhancement of security, stability, and responsive behavior in space” contained in the “Strengthen US Leadership” subsection of International Cooperation.[39] In fact, both policies have identified that for the US, “[p]urposeful interference with space systems, including supporting infrastructure, will be considered an infringement of a nation’s rights.”[40] Both policies even outline the agencies underlying principle to “consistent with the inherent right to self-defense… deter others from interference and attack.”[41]

It is clear from the 2020 policy’s emphasis on cybersecurity, a concept mostly absent from its predecessor, that the notion of “purposeful interference” now also includes cyberattacks. Newly mentioned in the 2020 version is cybersecurity of GPS, and the instruction to promote adoption of cyber-secure devices.[42] Both policies call for assurance of “space-enabled” functions critical to national interests.[43] Again, the 2020 version expands these guidelines to include cybersecurity concerns.[44] While 2010 directed the US to “develop and exercise” these capabilities, the 2020 policy lays down two new aspects of exercising said capabilities: (1) periodic operationally-focused exercises to test critical national functions; and (2) incorporation of simulated disruption of space systems into national exercises.[45] Given the “purposeful interference” standard outlined in the principles of the 2020 policy, these tests are surely supposed to help combat recent interference efforts. Deterring and countering any such interference is well in line with the freedom of exploration goal shared by both policies.

The inclusion of cybersecurity principles and guidelines in the 2020 policy is likely in response to extensive foreign hacking campaigns currently targeting US government systems.[46] To meet this challenge, the 2020 policy seeks to ensure space systems are designed, deployed, and operated with cybersecurity in mind.[47] The US will collaborate with domestic industries in order to encourage the development and integration of cyber-secure devices and manage supply chain risks.[48] Best practices for mitigation of cybersecurity risks will also be established via collaboration with interagency, allied, and commercial partners.[49] The US will leverage these widely adopted best practices and standards in the creation of rules and regulations, and will determine appropriate cybersecurity measures for government space systems.[50] 2020’s new cybersecurity emphasis is one which should be carried forward into future space policies given the prevalence of hacking in today’s world and the importance of cyber defenses to preserving critical national capabilities in space.

Sector guidelines

Much like the Intersector Guidelines, the 2020 Sector Guidelines build on the 2010 policy. The Commercial Space Guidelines continue to promote the commercial space industry while bolstering US leadership in commercial space. The Civil Space Guidelines shift the immediate focus to sustainability on the Moon while maintaining the future goal of reaching Mars. Finally, the National Security Guidelines create cohesion among US intelligence and defense agencies and expands cybersecurity measures. As with the Cross Sector guidelines, 2020’s Sector guidelines make for a timely extension of the shared goals and principles noted previously.

Commercial space guidelines

The 2020 Policy notes that US. commercial leadership in space is integral to achieving the national goals and maintaining the security of the US and its allies. The new plan continues to promote "a robust and competitive commercial space sector"[51] and calls for the advancement of US commercial leadership in space. With an additional focus on regulatory guidelines and the US workforce, the new plan will drive the US commercial space industry’s growth and leadership.

The new policy plans to create “strength and security” in space for the US as well as its allies through various means.

The commercial guidelines focus on “increased and sustained prosperity, free market principles, enhanced international partnerships and collaboration, technological innovation, and scientific discovery.”[52] The US will continue its commitment to “foster fair and open global trade” and to prioritize the purchase and modification of US commercial space technology and services over government development of new technology.[53] The new policy further strengthens the commercial industry by ensuring that regulatory and licensing processes of space systems and services are transparent and consistent with national goals. It works to reduce the regulatory burden and create the flexibility necessary to accommodate innovation and technological demands.[54]

An advantage of the 2020 policy is the “Mission Authorization of Novel Activities” guideline. The OST places the liability of national activity, including commercial activity, on the government. As the commercial industry continues to grow, the potential for US liability increases. The new guideline tasks the Secretary of Commerce (Commerce) with identifying if space activities are within the scope of existing regulations and if they meet the international obligations. Additionally, Commerce is to “lead, if necessary, the development of minimally burdensome, responsive, transparent, and adaptive review, authorization and supervision processes” for novel space activities.[55] The streamlined regulatory authority provides Commerce with the ability to fulfill its mission to “foster the conditions for the economic growth and technical advancement of the U.S. commercial space industry” by providing a responsive and flexible regulatory process with the oversight necessary to protect US liability under the OST.[56] With commercial landings targeted to start reaching the Moon this year, the need for such oversight is immediate. We urge the new administration to continue and build on the 2020 oversight provisions.

Civil space guidelines

While both policies push for further exploration and research of space, there are notable differences regarding the focus and timeline. The 2010 policy aimed for crewed missions beyond the Moon by 2025, including sending humans to an asteroid and to the orbit of Mars by the mid-2030s.[57] The new policy calls for the US to lead a sustainable program with commercial and international partners that will "enable human expansion across the solar system" and bring knowledge and resources back to Earth.[58] The 2020 policy does this by bringing the current focus back to the Moon. It aims to land the next man and the first American woman on the Moon by 2024 and create a sustainable presence by 2028. The plan is to then venture to land the first human on Mars.[59] The focus on the Moon supports NASA’s Artemis program, which plans to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon and provides more opportunity to build an economy based on space resources than a singular focus on Mars. This positive shift in focus does not distract from the goal of Mars but instead allows for further research on and development of space resources and the effects of extended time in space on the human body and space technology. Achieving the 2020 sustainability policy will launch the US towards its next goal, Mars.

National security guidelines

One of the most notable variances in the two policies can be found in the National Security Guidelines. The goal of furthering the "peaceful use of space" is apparent in both policies.[60] However, advancing technology, additional space activity, and the addition of the Space Force to the armed forces required some new adjustments. The new policy plans to create “strength and security” in space for the US as well as its allies through various means, including an awareness of space activities and their potential for threatening behavior; setting the standard of “responsible norms of behavior” for space activities; credible defenses; and the ability to reduce the effectiveness of threatening behavior.[61] The policy requires “synchronized diplomatic, information, military, and economic strategies that: deter adversaries and other actors from conducting activities that may threaten the peaceful use of space by the United States, its allies, and partners; and compel and impose costs on adversaries to cease behaviors that threaten the peaceful use of space by the United States, its allies, and partners.”[62]

The synchronized plan includes the United States Space Force, the United States Intelligence Community, and the Department of Defense (DoD) working together to provide “strategic, operational, and tactical intelligence and decisive military advantages to the Nation.”[63] The Space Force will be responsible for “organizing, training, and equipping forces capable of projecting power in, from, and to space to defend United States national interests; protecting the freedom of operation in, from, and to the space domain; and enhancing the lethality and effectiveness of the Joint Force.”[64]

These similarities continue to embody the original Eisenhower mandate to explore space for the benefit of all humankind. The 2020 policy has merely adapted this mandate to the technological advancements of this era.

Both policies dictate that the DoD and the Intelligence Community. will develop technology and plans to deter and defend against attacks against US or allied space systems. They will streamline the collection, analysis, and sharing of intelligence data.[65] The departments will be in charge of identifying threats, current and future, to US space missions and support national defense and homeland security and review radio frequencies as needed. More specifically, the new policy requires the DoD and Intelligence Community to procure defense technology; develop and practice procedures necessary to protect space-enabled missions; integrate operational command between the Intelligence Community and DoD; and promote collaboration among agencies involved in national security space activities.[66] The agencies are also tasked with procuring, improving, and implementing cybersecurity defenses to protect the integrity of space missions and services.[67]

Conclusion

Spacefaring nations worked together to create the Outer Space Treaty under the shared goal of preserving space for the peaceful use and benefit of all humankind. Similarly, the hope for a competitive American commercial space industry, international cooperation, continued exploration and discovery of space, and US leadership in space is shared by vastly different administrations. The influence of the 2010 policy, implemented under President Obama, is clearly seen in the foundation of the 2020 policy. The new policy continues the progress made under its predecessor while reaffirming international cooperation and US leadership in space.

Comparison of the two policies reveals that the former logically builds upon and expands many of the 2010 National Space Policy’s points given recent events. The congruency between the space policies of these two administrations illustrates the reality that the exploration and utilization of space is truly nonpartisan in the United States. These similarities continue to embody the original Eisenhower mandate to explore space for the benefit of all humankind. The 2020 policy has merely adapted this mandate to the technological advancements of this era, with a most notable emphasis on cybersecurity. We urge the Biden Administration to endorse and support these policies, shared by both previous administrations, because of their benefit to not just Americans, but humankind as a whole.

Endnotes

  1. Office of the President, National Space Policy of the United States of America (Dec. 9, 2020) [hereinafter 2020 Policy].
  2. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 3-4.
  3. Id. at 3.
  4. See 51 U.S.C. § 51302(a)(3) (Stating the US shall “promote the right of United States citizens to engage in commercial exploration for and commercial recovery of space resources free from harmful interference, in accordance with the international obligations of the United States and subject to authorization and continuing supervision by the Federal Government.”) [hereinafter 2015 Resource Law]; cf 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 3 (The 2020 policy merely substitutes “promote” with “pursue:” “The United States will pursue the extraction and utilization of space resources in compliance with applicable law”). “Pursue” does not indicate the US aims to violate international law by claiming sovereignty over space territories while doing so, given the reiteration of international law under OST article II just before this statement. Id.
  5. Office of the President, National Space Policy of the United States of America (June 28, 2010), [hereinafter 2010 Policy]; 2020 Policy, supra note 1.
  6. See generally Abhijnan Rej, Russia Tests Anti-Satellite Missile: US, THE DIPLOMAT (Dec. 18, 2020).
  7. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 4.
  8. Id. at 3.
  9. The language reflecting the goal to “broaden and extend the benefits of space” for all humanity is present in both policies. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 4; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 3.
  10. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 4; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 5.
  11. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 4; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 5.
  12. 2020 Policy, supra note 1.
  13. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 4.
  14. Id.
  15. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 5.
  16. See Cecilia Jasasmie, Obama boosts asteroid mining, signs law granting rights to own space riches, Mining.com (Nov. 26, 2015); see also 51 USC. §§ 51302-03 (2015).
  17. See 51 USC. §§ 51302-03 (2015).
  18. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 13-14.
  19. Id.
  20. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 6; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 12.
  21. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 6; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 13.
  22. Id.
  23. Id.
  24. Id.
  25. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 12; 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 6.
  26. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 12.
  27. Id.
  28. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 6; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 12.
  29. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 5; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 14.
  30. Id.
  31. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 15.
  32. Id. at 16.
  33. Id. at 17.
  34. Id.
  35. In re Swarm Technologies, Inc., FCC 18-184, Consent Decree 2 (Dec. 20, 2018). See also FCC Reaches $900,000 Settlement with Swarm for Unauthorized Satellite Launch, Press Release, FCC (Dec. 20, 2018).
  36. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 5-6; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 7-8.
  37. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 5.
  38. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 7-8.
  39. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 6.
  40. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 3; see also 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 3-4.
  41. Id.
  42. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 10.
  43. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 9; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 18.
  44. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 18.
  45. Id. at 18-19.
  46. See generally Natasha Bertrand & Eric Wolff, Nuclear weapons agency breached amid massive cyber onslaught, POLITICO (Dec. 17, 2020); Guardian staff and agencies, US cybersecurity firm FireEye says it was hacked by a foreign government, The Guardian (Dec. 8, 2020).
  47. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 18.
  48. Id.
  49. Id.
  50. Id.
  51. 2010 Policy, supra note 5.
  52. 2020 Policy, supra note 1.
  53. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 10; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 20-21.
  54. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 21.
  55. Id.
  56. Mission of the Office of Space Commerce; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 21.
  57. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 23.
  58. Id.
  59. Id.
  60. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 4; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 27.
  61. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 27.
  62. Id.
  63. Id.
  64. Id.
  65. 2010 Policy, supra note 5, at 14; 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 30-31.
  66. 2020 Policy, supra note 1, at 30-31.
  67. Id.

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