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

The National Space Forum 2008 was sponsored by the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies at the United States Air Force Academy and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. The Forum was organized around the following policy areas: Security and Space, Commerce and Space, Space and Science/Technology Leadership/Space Exploration, Space Management, Space Governance, and New and Emerging Trends in Security, Commercial, and Civil Space. The goal of the Forum was to examine the key decisions that will need to be made in regard to space policy when a new presidential administration comes to power in 2009. To this end, the Forum facilitated discussion among the security, commercial, and civil space sectors, and the broader national policy community.

This article draws on, but does not attempt to summarize, the discussions at the National Space Forum. The article represents the view of the author and not those of the Eisenhower Center, CSIS, or their affiliated organizations.

Should the space shuttle program be terminated in 2010?

The United States is at a crossroads in civil space policy with NASA efforts directed at: (1) retiring the Space Shuttle by 2010; (2) completing the International Space Station; (3) and addressing the issue of the time gap between retirement of the Shuttle and the Constellation program that is slated to replace the Shuttle and support the United States Space Exploration Policy.


  • Budgetary resources are a policy challenge for civil space programs and the Space Exploration Policy. This implies that there are trade-offs that need to made between human spaceflight and space science programs.
  • There exist political pressures, from Congress and the scientific space communities in particular, to get balance in the budget in terms of support for specific line-items for programs in space and Earth sciences.
  • A challenge for the Space Exploration Policy is how to successfully transition from the Space Shuttle to the Constellation program within an environment of limited budgetary resources, while maintaining the current and planned programs and projects in space sciences and Earth sciences.
  • The political pressures for better balance in civil space spending between human spaceflight and science makes the current Space Exploration Policy a political proposal at this point in time.

Policy Choice
Support the current Space Exploration Policy that calls for terminating the Space Shuttle in 2010 or depart from the Policy and commit to continue to fly the Space Shuttle.

  • Support for the Space Exploration Policy establishes a strategic vision for human spaceflight and human space exploration. This Policy is important as it addresses why the United States should risk human lives for spaceflight. It taps into the need to move beyond low Earth orbit. Along this journey, the United States will learn much about international cooperation, innovations, and scientific applications. Successful implementation of the Space Exploration Policy rests on renewed efforts to strengthen cooperation between civil space and commercial space, and sustaining the commitment to “remake” NASA organizationally so that the agency can better manage with the budgetary trends to get the most out of the Space Exploration Policy.
  • A departure from the Space Exploration Policy emphasizes and prioritizes NASA’s space science and Earth science enterprises, and leads to a political commitment to continue to fly the Space Shuttle past 2010 to actively support the International Space Station program. This approach satisfies scientific interests, justifies the utility of the International Space Station, and resolves, at least in the near-term, the political ramifications of a time gap between retirement of the Space Shuttle and any new transportation system that would replace the Shuttle. Concomitantly, a departure from the Space Exploration Policy leaves the United States without any strategic guidance for space exploration, and the role of humans in that exploration.

Is space a contested domain?

The vulnerability of space assets to interference and disruption, such as electronic interference and kinetic kill events that can occur in times of conflict, supports the view held by the United States security space community that space is a contested domain. The Chinese anti-satellite test in January of 2007 served to reinforce this view.


  • A contested space domain challenges the past fifty years of space policy, law, and practice in regard to the access and use of outer space.
  • The view that space is a cooperative domain is the cornerstone of all national space policies from the time of President Eisenhower to the current national space policy put forward by President Bush in 2006.
  • A cooperative space domain is the accepted interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The Outer Space Treaty enables the United States to fully perform its national security space missions.
  • A contested space domain prioritizes coherent space protection and space negation, i.e., space control and denial programs, as a means to provide for protection of space assets.

Policy Choice
Maintain space as a cooperative domain or view space as a contested domain.

  • A reassurance of the commitment to space as a cooperative domain allows for a demonstration of space leadership to address issues related to the vulnerability of space assets. This vulnerability is a shared risk that all spacefaring states face. Risks can be mitigated by working with allies and other spacefaring states in the intentional arena through data sharing approaches to space situational awareness, realizing collective security regimes for space assets, establishing space deterrence and satellite security doctrines, and formulating and agreeing to rules of the road on the expected peaceful behavior in the space domain.
  • An adoption of space as a contested domain prioritizes a national, versus international, approach to space protection. Counterspace capabilities that are often associated with space protection face obstacles to any successful implementation. Given the priorities for space situational awareness, communications, positioning, navigation, timing, and reconnaissance, the resources are not likely to exist for developing a comprehensive set of capabilities to achieve effective space control and denial. This is further exacerbated by obstacles posited by space acquisition processes that are plagued by cost and scheduling problems. The political implication in viewing space as a contested domain is that the end of space protection is a proposition that can only be realized in the longer term, and at a cost and trade-off to the space assets that provide the United States national security advantages now and in the future.

Do export control laws harm national security and economic interests?

The United States government’s approach to export control of commercial space technologies places political, legal, and bureaucratic restrictions on the aerospace industry in the United States. These restrictions posit a cost to the United States satellite industry and the space industrial base.


  • Export controls of commercial space technologies are governed through the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which is administered by the Department of State. These Regulations prevent international partnerships in commercial space by making it more difficult and bureaucratic to implement.
  • As a result of ITAR, domestic manufacturing capabilities for vital space-related hardware and components are reduced. The regulations, in contrast to the intended goal of retaining preeminence for the United States in the aerospace and defense fields, brings about the opposite effect.
  • The United States has fallen behind and has lost leadership status in global space commerce competition due to its export control regime.
  • Export controls are an impediment to United States competition in the international marketplace. International competition in space commerce is stiff and growing, and ITAR harms United States industry and limit the ability to access and make use of the best capabilities. Globalization of space is desirable and ITAR is a barrier.
  • ITAR damages national security by placing legal and bureaucratic restrictions on the United States military use of commercial space assets that rely on a robust satellite industry and space industrial base. The fact is that the United States military is dependent on commercial space services.
  • ITAR directly impacts approaches to national security space whereby the United States is denying allies access to warfighting and space protection capabilities.

Policy Choice
Support reform efforts for export control policies or mandate, in addition to political reform, that export control laws be updated by the United States Congress.

  • Act on behalf of space companies to create and ensure an open, free-market environment in global space commerce. The current approach to export control of commercial space technologies prevents this from taking place. The export control issue must be addressed at the level of policy by reforming the “rule set” for how ITAR is applied. The current January 2008 Presidential Directive on export control reform is a start, yet more is needed. This encompasses a reassessment of what technologies need to be controlled for export, and dealing with issues of timing, review, transparency, and cost in the export licensing process.
  • The United States Congress with the support of the President can address the issue of export controls by updating export control laws to better match the dynamics of global space commerce. This starts with reforming the current approach to ITAR by moving jurisdiction on all dual-use commercial space technologies from the Department of State to the Department of Commerce, to legislating new export control laws that update and replace the antiquated Cold War legislation that is still in place– Arms Export Control Act and Export Administration Act.

Do space programs take too long to develop and cost too much?

In the United States, it takes 10 to 15 years or more to deploy a space capability and at a cost that exceeds the budgetary resources that are available. The means to address cost and development issues are to reform space acquisition policies and processes.


  • Space programs and projects are developed on the basis of cost and budgetary considerations. This basis results in cost overruns and long development times. This is all the more important as the budgets for space programs are likely to decline in real terms, or at best remain stagnant.
  • Costs and development times are driven by the United States Government buying and contacting behavior that is driven more by budgetary, as opposed to programmatic or strategic, considerations.
  • Space acquisitions are an on-going process. A key part of successful acquisitions is going from research to an operational transition. This cannot be driven by the push of technology alone. There must be technology pull. The desired end state of minimizing risk on the operational end requires a strategy that mitigates risk early-on, in the research and development and in the science and technology phases.
  • More responsive and affordable space capabilities enabled by acquisition reforms are vital to address United States national security concerns in space. In this context, support to the warfighter is linked to what industry can deliver. The military has the problem of aging systems and technology, which necessitates upgrades to space assets. The United States is struggling to get space capabilities deployed due to acquisition challenges.

Policy Choice
Address space acquisition challenges through a sustained commitment to acquisition reforms or by augmenting that commitment through strategic guidance for space programs.

  • Space acquisition problems have been addressed over the past decade through reforming acquisition processes. A sustained commitment and further expansion of these reforms is vital for sound acquisition processes to better meet the security and civil space goals/objectives of the United States. The key elements of reform include: grounding in system engineering processes; reductions in cost and time during the acquisition cycle through independent reviews and cost-estimating; clear and coherent requirements and standards; risk-taking in technology development; risk-mitigation by making use of mature technologies; and the design of flexible systems that can integrate new technologies as they mature.
  • Reforms in space acquisition processes, the traditional avenue to fix the way the United States government and aerospace industry develop and build space asserts, is not the complete answer to space acquisition challenges. A commitment to addressing space acquisition policy does provide a more complete answer. Policy guidance is needed to direct space programs on the basis of strategic choices. It is important to think and act strategically as the United States and the aerospace industry design and develop systems to avoid short-term fiscal pressures that cause acquisition problems. An examination of the strategic picture fosters more effective requirements definition that will result in lower costs and improved timelines for development. This expanded approach to reform space acquisitions does depend on the political wherewithal to formulate a national space strategy.

Is there a need for the centralization of space policy making?

The United States government lacks a centralized, strategic vision for space to guide space policy making. Space represents a set of strategic capabilities that cannot be solely “stovepiped” for specific ends. The space enterprise is interdependent and cuts across many areas from security to civil, commercial, and allied space, implying that space is strategic.


  • Since President Eisenhower, there has been continuity in space policy. This includes: commitments to space as a cooperative domain and space protection in the area of security space; encouraging and fostering the development of space commerce; and supporting civil space programs in both science and human spaceflight.
  • There is an issue concerning implementing and operationalizing space policy. Strategic problems, like space, require strategic solutions, including steps other than simply building more hardware for specific ends. The United States lacks a global space strategy, i.e., a roadmap for means to achieve strategic ends.
  • Making space work—operationalizing space through modernizing and investing in the space infrastructure—is about the need for a set of strategic choices to guide what and how the United States develops space capabilities. This is a matter of some strategic urgency as there are some difficult strategic choices because the development of space systems does not show any trends of shorter development times.
  • The space community today is too insular to get to a strategic vision. There are rigidities that stovepipe thinking and capabilities. This needs to be overcome with new approaches that integrate existing capabilities across all space sectors, including internationals.

Policy Choice
Maintain continuity in national space policy or establish centralized guidance for national space policy through the formulation of a national space strategy.

  • Maintaining continuity in national space policy provides an adequate framework to guide the role of the United States government in advancing security, commercial, and civil space interests. This policy choice offers the least bureaucratic resistance in the implementation of key programs and projects vital to national interests. The issue with this approach is that policy making is dispersed and fragmented among many bureaucracies and organizations. This dispersion tends to stove-pipe how policy is operationalized. In addition, there are no strategic links between national interests and the set of strategic capabilities desired by the United States. As such, national space policy drives programmatic decisions that are tied to specific interests and budgetary allocations. Program development along these lines is one of the factors underlying space acquisition problems characterized by the dynamic of “too long to develop and cost too much.”
  • Centralize space policy making through an interagency group within the Executive Office of the President. Either the re-establishment of the National Space Council at the White House or a new interagency “space group” tied to the National Security Council demonstrates senior leadership on space and galvanizes the national will to formulate a space strategy. An effective national space strategy is one that is directed at realizing spacepower for the United States. Spacepower is the ability to use space to influence other actors and the external environment to achieve one’s objectives. Hard power (military and economic), which equates to military-intelligence sectors of space activity, and soft power (diplomatic and informational) dealing with civil-scientific and commercial space areas are applicable for spacepower. A spacepower framework for formulating a national space strategy allows for a focus on strategic capabilities and how these capabilities can be realized through the use of space assets. Within this context, it is important that the United States government, first and foremost, secure the peaceful uses of the space domain for all humankind.

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