The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

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A 21st-century space policy could promote the development of reusable launch vehicles that enable space-based solar power and other capabilities not feasible today. (credit: NASA)

A national space policy for this century

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We are convinced that small programmatic decisions made in the near term will grow exponentially to have tremendous consequence in the long term.

For two years, a team of United States Air Force officers at Air University have been exploring the implications for national security of the ongoing transportation and industrial revolution taking place in the commercial space industry. The team is called “Space Horizons” and consists of several professors and some 24 mid-grade Air Force officers and civilians from both Air War College (AWC) and Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) motivated to explore America’s future in space. Initiated in 2015 under Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, former head for USAF Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) office, it is concurrent with Air University’s transformation efforts to be responsive to CSAF desires that Air University should become America’s think tank on the air, space, and cyber domains.

We have examined what we think will be the key strategic competitions our nation will face, and what sort of policy will be required for the United States to prevail in the space domain—a domain we expect will be hyper-competitive and central to the future of power in the international system.

We are convinced that small programmatic decisions made in the near term will grow exponentially to have tremendous consequence in the long term. Therefore, a new policy is needed to guide investments investments now to secure the future of American power and freedom of action.

New times and new technological and social realities demand a new and different tone. In the policy draft that follows, we have attempted to bring a clean-sheet approach to a national space policy and allow it to be forward-looking—at least as far as the captains of US industry and the luminaries of other nations have already articulated.

We have attempted transcend the consensus view that space is now “contested, congested, and competitive,” and the myopic focus on the major programs in the current budget. Instead of an attempt simply to re-word existing policy and tweak direction given to our current space organizations and actors, we have attempted to strike an aspirational tone and set an overarching framework to guide new investment toward what we think are the major opportunities before us. We believe that if our focus is on the most ambitious projects within our technical and industrial imagination, then nearer-term capabilities and advantages will naturally fall into place.

What we see emerging is a definite change in roles between government and private industry, with private industry taking a much more significant lead in the development of space technology and expansion. Our government is now in a position to help and promote, or to hinder and constrain. We believe that the future of American power will hinge on this decision. A positivist approach will allow us to play to natural advantages, whereas a skeptical or overly-regulated approach will allow other nations to move ahead of us, and encourage our talent and companies to look overseas for opportunities.

Therefore, we offer this forward-leaning draft of a National Space Policy. We believe it captures the sense of the American people, the Congress, and the captains of industry. It reflects changes in competitor-state attitudes about the purposes of the space domain. It relects changes in domestic social attitudes about the changing roles of government and private industry.

National Space Policy of the United States of America

A Domain of Vast Opportunity

It is the policy of the United States that Space represents a domain of vast opportunity and commerce for all humankind.

Safety and Prosperity for All Mankind: Securing the Blessings of Liberty and Prosperity

Space holds solutions for many pressing planetary problems and holds the key to our species’ long-term survival and prosperity. Therefore, space is critical to our nation’s long-term survival and prosperity.

It is the policy of the United States to take leadership in the global community to protect and extend the life of planet Earth against the known dangers of Earth-crossing asteroids and comets.

It is a specific goal of the United States to enable a thriving in-space economy and permanent self-sustaining human settlement in order for humankind to become a multi-habitat, multi-planetary, and eventually a starfaring species. We hold that the protection of humankind and its biosphere, and the expansion of life into space, is a moral imperative.

It is the policy of the United States to take leadership in the global community to protect and extend the life of planet Earth against the known dangers of Earth-crossing asteroids and comets. The US will seek to reduce the risk to our civilization from space-originating threats such as asteroids, comets, and solar flares by establishing a long-range environmental surveillance network that can provide advance warning of such threats; to develop and test mitigation measures, and to establish national and international structures and procedures ready to respond.

Assuring Access and Commerce in the Space Domain

It is the policy of the United States that space should be free for all lawful commerce and state activity of all nations, their chartered public and private institutions, and their citizenry free from harmful interference. Purposeful interference with US systems or those of our allies or friends risks in-kind retaliation, or retaliation in another domain at the time and place of our choosing. The US recognizes both the criticality and vulnerability of space infrastructure and will exercise the inherent right of self-defense, defense-of-another, or collective self-defense, if required, to protect its access to, security in, and freedom in the space domain.

Ensuring Freedom of Navigation and Protecting the Space Environment

It is the policy of the United States to care for and maintain the safety of navigation in the space domain. The US will develop and test: capabilities to deflect natural and artificial objects which may present hazards to safety of navigation, satellite infrastructure, or human life; capabilities to clear the paths of navigation of harmful debris; capabilities to restore freedom of navigation through a disrupted ionosphere; and capabilities to limit or blockade the ability of weapons of mass destruction or other weapons to trespass space.

It is the policy of the United States to encourage the development of a mature space traffic management system; to help shape any governing institutions; to fully participate in such a system, and to ensure that its national security systems proceed with due regard for the safety of navigation of other national, commercial, private, and civil systems.

It is the policy of the United States to encourage the development of a regime and shared liability approach to active debris remediation.

Reaching Higher and Farther

It is the ambition of America to be the first nation to lead humankind in starflight. We seek to uplift humankind by setting a goal of returning the first images from a probe to a stellar neighbor with an Earth-like exoplanet such as Proxima Centauri on the eve of America’s quadricentennial. Such a goal, because of its complexity and difficulty will develop—as was the case with the Apollo Moon program—many technologies useful on Earth, inspire the world, and attract talent into science, technology, engineering, arts and math to maintain America’s competitive edge in technology.

It is the ambition of America, a spacefaring civilization, to enable and encourage humankind to become a multi-planetary species and to spread life and the unique life of Earth’s biospheres to the myriad of lifeless worlds. While such efforts shall be led by civil society, the United States shall look for opportunities to enable such efforts.

It is the ambition of America to expand the habitats of Earth-life and humankind beyond Earth. To that end, the United States will conduct pre-competitive work to advance the state-of-the-art in closed-cycle life support, in-space farming, and construction techniques for large habitats, free-flying space colonies, and habitats for the Moon, Mars or other celestial bodies of interest to civil society for commerce or settlement.

It is the ambition of America, a space industrial power, to enable an industrial revolution in space to be able to unlock the vast energy and mineral resources of space and to construct vast and ambitious human constructions such as space solar power satellites, space colonies, far-seeing telescopes, and, when technology permits, starships. Toward this end, the United States shall support pre-competitive research and development of technology to mine the Moon, asteroids and other bodies for metals, propellant, and other minerals with a clear intention to transition these technologies to private industry. The United States will develop the pre-competitive technology necessary for on-orbit manufacture, construction, and servicing of large, high power platforms and settlements.

It is the ambition of America, a space industrial power, to enable an industrial revolution in space.

It is the ambition of America, a nation committed to the preservation and uplifting of all humankind, to the greening of our planet and the energy security of the world, to enable the creation of a space-power grid to supply nearly limitless green energy to every nation. Toward this end, the United States shall conduct pre-competitive research and seek public-private partnerships to create a prototype solar power satellite and to encourage through public-private partnerships, anchor contracts, prizes and cooperative research, the creation of a supporting fully-reusable logistics infrastructure.

It is the ambition of America to expand access to space for every citizen, and to enable a thriving economy which may one day support millions of American and other citizens in permanent space settlements. It is our ambition to lead humanity to bring the inner solar system within the economic sphere-of-influence of Earth. Toward this end, the United States will encourage and promote the creation of an end-to-end fully reusable transportation system enabling better than weekly visits to space, and enabling access to the resources entire inner solar system.

Recognizing the criticality of propulsion to all these ambitions, it is shall be the policy of the United States to promote research in space propulsion through pre-competitive research, and development of prototype systems for transition to the private sector. The US shall support research in space nuclear propulsion both fission and fusion, both thermal and electric, both onboard and beamed, as well as novel concepts and physics which might greatly reduce the transit times and propellant required for regular transport within this solar system and to other stars. The US shall support the development and transition of this technology to the private sector, and shall seek opportunities to become an anchor customer of innovations which advance fully-reusable propulsion architectures such as propellant depots, and space-sourcing of propellant.

STEM Powered

To power this ambitous agenda, we will initiate a new series of space-related educational grants to grow our ranks of space-capable science, technology, engineering and math professionals. We will look for opportunities to install research equipment at universities that advances the goals in this policy. We will encourage multi-university research initiatives, and the establishment of university centers around our stated policy goals.

Promotion of US Industry and Market Share

It is the policy of the United States to compete for the best space-related talent and industries to come to the United States. Therefore, we will create the most favorable internal climate for off-Earth business development. This includes a deliberate attempt to benchmark and ensure a competitive environment with respect to taxation, regulation, liability, clarity of certification, registration and flight permissions. For instance, if other nations adopt a “zero-g, zero-tax” moratorium, the US should pursue similar legislation. In addition, we will promote a “one-stop-shopping” interface with regulating US agencies and government organizations charged with promotion, advocacy and championing space development both domestically as well as with stakeholder international organizations or customers.

The United States considers it a national good for US-flagged carriers to have favorable market shares in commercially provided space-based Internet, commercial space-based remote sensing, as well as commercial Earth-to-orbit and in-space transportation.

The United States will give preference to the use of US commercial carriers except where benefits of reciprocity may advantage the nation. The United States shall, wherever possible, support its industrial base by purchasing services available from private industry rather than creating competing systems.

Where the United States Will Lead in Space

We recognize that space represents a tapestry where many nations and actors will contribute threads. We recognize that there will be ample opportunities both for cooperation as well as the exciting prospect of competition to uplift all humankind, to include a competition to access the best cooperative partnerships. In this exciting environment, the United States seeks to lead humankind with certain firsts—accomplishments that demonstrate a competitive edge and are inspiring to others to join or emulate in a constant and uplifting spiral of human progress. We hope to establish public-private partnerships and encourage designs in this administration that should quickly bear fruit in achieving the following firsts:

The United States seeks to be the first nation to mine an asteroid. With potentially trillions of dollars in mineral wealth to fuel a vibrant global and in-space economy and enable the uplift of the economic condition of humankind, we hope to be the first to unlock this vast resource for humankind.

The United States recognizes the inadequacy and limitations of organizations constructed in a Cold War where motivations in space resulted in the fracturing of the space enterprise into stovepipes.

The United States seeks to be the first nation to mine propellant and minerals from our Moon and to operate a commercial transportation service to-and-from the lunar surface. Our Moon offers vast resources and tremendous logistical advantages for the development of an in-space economy which shall one day benefit the citizens of Earth. The United States will conduct pre-competitive research and establish public-private partnerships to advance the technology and the development of self-sustaining commercial services, and will commit to being an early customer of such services. The United States will take a leadership role to help private industry design the standards, and interfaces to allow the cooperation among multiple entrepreneurs.

The United States seeks to be the first nation to operate a propellant depot and on-orbit refueling service. A critical key to an agile and fully reusable space transportation system is the ability to refuel on orbit. On-orbit refueling enables longer service lives for critical space infrastructure, it extends our ability to place useful payloads at distant locations, it encourages high flight rates, and creates a market for space-sourced propellant. The United States wishes to be the first to prove this technology and offer it as a commercial service to other market entrants and explorers to spark a blossoming of industry and empower human curiosity.

The United States seeks to be the first nation to operate a private space station. Central to our vision of a thriving space economy is a broadening of societal access to space and a permanent presence of ordinary citizens living and working in space. We hope to lead the nations of Earth in the creation of a market for private orbital spaceflight and environments for work and play.

The United States seeks to be the first nation to operate a commercial Earth-to-orbit spaceline of fully-reusable launch vehicles. Central to our vision of access for our citizenry is the ability to come and go to space with aircraft-like operations. A fully-reusable architecture makes possible the capture of new elastic markets such as private spaceflight, to create the possibilities for a first generation of space solar power satellites, and to enable efforts to settle space. Fully reusable spacecraft make possible increasingly high flight rates at ever lower marginal cost. We hope to be the provider of the transportation system that fuels a larger global ecosystem of innovation.

The United States seeks to be the first nation, or to lead a coalition of nations, to build a prototype solar power satellite. No single innovation in space could be as transformational as the unlocking of the vast energy potential of space-based solar power. Space-based solar power could provide hundreds of terawatts of 24-hour baseload renewable energy to re-green planet Earth, and fuel a multi-million-metric-ton logistic system for space commerce. The realization of a space solar economy could make Earth wealthier, greener, less polluted, and power the dreams of the developing world. The logistics system to create the space-power grid—paid for by everyday power utility bills—vastly exceeds the size of any conceivable space budget, and creates the scale and power required to advance the dreams of space settlement and interstellar flight. The United States will perform pre-competitive research to retire the risk of components and integration; will establish public-private partnerships to demonstrate prototypes, and will become an anchor customer of a commercial spacepower service.

The United States seeks to be the first nation to establish a hazardous asteroid early warning system and demonstrate an asteroid deflection capability. This initial capability will provide defense against objects between 50 and 300 meters with several years of advance warning. The United States will design, construct, and seek to test this initial capability in the current administration, with the goal of maintaining an on-call asteroid defense soon thereafter. From this initial capability, we will build to a comprehensive protection capability against extinction-level events.

While the United States aims to lead in these areas, an in some cases to achieve first honors, we see vast possibilities together with other nations. Where possible, the United States will seek to increase its participation in international space efforts.

Organizing for the Century Ahead at Home

The United States recognizes the inadequacy and limitations of organizations constructed in a Cold War where motivations in space resulted in the fracturing of the space enterprise into stovepipes related to science and prestige-seeking, remote sensing in the context of a nuclear security dilemma, and military support services.

Likewise, we recognize that the limited institutions that exist in the international sphere were likewise shaped by a focus on arms control rather than on advancing commercial space development.

The United States shall begin a process of internal examination of how best to organize the totality of its space enterprise, and what utility there may be in organizations better resourced for development, commerce, law enforcement, and long-term environmental surveillance. We will examine whether the Federal Aviation Administration model of an organization dual-tasked to promote and regulate might advance these goals.

We will begin the process of exploring how the nation might better be served by a dedicated department, a space development agency, a space corps of engineers, and a dedicated constabulary space-guard. We will examine options early for developing a corps of officers capable of thinking about and developing organs to be effective in a vastly expanded commercial and civilianized space domain, able to play a positive role in its promotion, technological acceleration, as well as in-space stabilizing presence and governance of licit commerce.

We will consider past models of service academies such as the Merchant Marine and Coast Guard academies, as well as a senior service school where simulations and gaming might help inform development and posture decisions of strategic consequence.

Recognizing that “spacepower is anything a nation can do in space,” we will examine models that would allow a synergistic effort where national security space, civil space, and commercial endeavors are mutually supportive of the goal of expanded US access, presence, capability, and freedom of action. We will examine the utility of a high-level governing board that can reconcile different objectives, decide doctrine, and make enterprise decisions toward speeding humanity’s economic development and settlement of the space domain.

Organizing for the Century Ahead Abroad

Externally, the United States will lead an effort to re-imagine what a successor regime to the Outer Space Treaty might look like—a matured, possibly superseding regime that might better address the promotion, risk reduction, and governance of a domain of expanding commercial and human activity. Such a regime should seek to address the needs for space traffic management, active debris remediation, and help shift the duties and liability for safe operations and debris management from nation-states to commercial actors.

Our viewpoint is that America needs to see space as a strategic industry that like shipping, railroads, or aviation, one that can grow exponentially and allow the development of entirely new markets.

In a manner analogous to how the ICAO sets standards for aviation, a matured regime should create a mechanism to achieve consensus and dissemination of standards for spacefaring interoperability and safety. This should encompass certification of spaceworthiness of commercial facilities and spacecraft, and standard operating procedures to ensure safety of navigation.

The matured regime should reduce market risk and address potential areas of conflict by protecting early entrants with defined safety zones and mining rights, and establishing methods by which entrants could assert a claim. It should seek to create mechanisms for shared infrastructure financing similar to exising development-oriented international financial institutions. Keeping in mind the goal is to broaden the ranks of nations, peoples, and entrepreneurs able to access and participate in the in-space economy and settle space, the sum of these endeavors should be to lower uncertainty, transaction, and collective action costs, and make available routes to financing and certification worldwide. The US will use its “convening power” to put space development on the agenda.

Toward these ends, the United States will seek an expanded role for Type 2 diplomacy—drawing on the best scholars in international policy and academia—to explore and game-out how to evolve such a regime and achieve consensus.


The United States is committed to opening the vast frontier of space to broader societal and commercial activity for both our nation and the world. Space development is our number one goal. We will give preference to science and technology efforts that expand the possibilities: of incorporating the solar system into the human economic sphere; of opening the space domain to human presence and settlement; to better the chances of human survival and the survival of life; and to using space resources for the dramatic betterment of human society and the protection of Earth’s biosphere.


We believe that in eight years, America’s industrial base is certainly capable of producing and operating fully reusable launch vehicles, of producing and operating an in-space cryogenic refueling capability, of developing capabilities to divert asteroids, and of developing most of the technology to mine the Moon and asteroids. It could easily begin, and perhaps even finish, a subscale solar power satellite prototype. In four years, and for a relatively small percentage of the current space budget, the US could easily begin initiatives and public-private partnerships that would bear fruit in the following four years.

Our viewpoint is that America needs to see space as a strategic industry that like shipping, railroads, or aviation, one that can grow exponentially and allow the development of entirely new markets. Past generations of Americans perceived a new economic frontier and stepped boldly into it. A generation of Americans developed the ambition of becoming a continental power and created technology such as the transcontinental railway and incentives such as the Homestead Act to enable that expansion. A later generation developed the ambition of becoming a seafaring and naval power and created the technologies (steam-powered ships, steel shipyards), and infrastructure (Panama Canal, Hickam Harbor, and coaling stations), workforce, and cadre of officers to enable it. Still later, America sought to become airfaring—it created the engine, jets, steel frames, and factories, forged the international legal regime of the Chicago Conference and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to establish free flight, and became the global leader in aviation, still our most successful export industry.

Today, Americans face an opportunity to become spacefaring. Far vaster resources and market opportunities exist in space than in all the previous domains combined. A single metal-rich asteroid contains more ore than ever mined on Earth. The power available in our geostationary belt alone far exceeds the power required of Earth civilization many times over. The resources of the asteroid belt could support the equivalent population 500,000 Earths (five million-billion people). It only requires—like any other domain—an enabling transportation system, enabling policy, and governance, and the right incentives to American industry. We can, like generations of Americans before us, choose to conquer a new domain—to become spacefaring, and to further secure the blessings of liberty and prosperity to ourselves, our posterity, and all people everywhere.

“Ad Astra per ardua”…through industry—to the stars