Our nation’s reliance on space has reached unprecedented levels, and the federal government must have a unified strategy commensurate with its importance.
Since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the impact of space-based infrastructure has increased year after year. Today, more than ever before, the benefits brought from orbit pervade every level of society: GPS enables over $1 billion of economic activity per day, NOAA satellites collect weather data to warn of upcoming storms and track long term climate data, communications satellites provide worldwide, irreplaceable coverage for both civilian and military operations, and much more. These industries touch on nearly every department, agency, and office of the federal government and impact each American every day.
Despite the crucial role that space plays in every facet of government and commercial operations, the federal government does not have a coordinated National Space Policy. The last policy, issued in 2011 by the Obama Administration, is outdated, and does not sufficiently address all key policy areas. The current administration has taken steps towards a national strategy by outlining several key features that should be included in a national policy, issuing four space policy directives, and reconstituting the National Space Council. Individual agencies have their own stated policies: NASA issued a strategy last year that outlined its plan for the next four years; the Department of Commerce outlined the general goal of promoting commercial space activities in its departmental strategic plan, the Department of Defense and Office of the Director of National Intelligence have enumerated space policy within their own national security plans; and the Department of Transportation has its own National Space Transportation Policy from 2013 and has received further policy direction from Space Policy Directive-2. While these entities have policy strategies for space, there remains no overarching national strategy to tie them together.
The development of a comprehensive, cohesive national strategy is critical and should include key stakeholders from every sector of the national space enterprise. A new National Space Strategy will mitigate the problem of duplicative program efforts, create accountability by designating specific space issues to certain offices, agencies, or departments, and create a coordinated vision throughout the enterprise. Furthermore, development of national strategy can be used as an opportunity to identify key policy issues that remain unresolved and provide clarifying language on each, including which governmental parties are responsible for the various issues and how they are to interface with other parties of interest.
A new National Space Strategy must work toward identifying the large-scale challenges of tomorrow and assign ownership of them today. This will include, but is not limited to: governance of military installations, scientific outposts, and colony settlements; ownership rights of mined resources and the accompanying extraction installations; defense of growing infrastructure in space and corresponding intelligence gathering capabilities; nuclear or solar power for space architectures; the tracking, collection, and repurposing of space debris; regulation of ever-increasing commercial activities both on orbit and for related ground infrastructure; and increasing long-term human presence in space and the necessary biomedical research needed to do so.
The creation of an overarching National Space Policy will allow the United States Government to coordinate the ongoing efforts in space today, while preparing for the continued complexity of tomorrow. Given the critical nature of our dependence on space, it is imperative to create a comprehensive strategy now to guide this future and make way for the many policies that will be required.