Unforced Errors in the New National Space Policy

The United States has wrestled with the space age’s implications since before the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite in 1957. Successive presidents often approached space issues in clusters of national security, civil, and commercial activities. More often than not, they addressed those issues in isolation from one another as problems arose. Consequently, national space policy has been frequently disjointed and given short shrift to interdependencies across the three sectors.

This created substantial risk for U.S. space power, which is a critical component of its national security, economy, and soft power leadership. The U.S. space industry is a net exporter of goods and services, making it economically important, and space-derived goods and services form key components of critical U.S. infrastructure. Global space spending totaled some $262 billion last year with the United States clearly the dominant player. The U.S. armed forces depend on space systems, such as the Global Positioning System, communications satellites, and reconnaissance satellites for the global projection of American power. NASA has been the recognized leader of international efforts to explore space and U.S. commercial firms have led global space commerce.

To its credit, the Obama administration, which released its National Space Policy in June 2010, attempted to reconcile that disjointedness. The policy is comprehensive, addressing issues in all three sectors, and forward leaning, seeking to fundamentally change the manner in which the U.S. government approaches civil space activity. Unfortunately, the policy contains a number of unforced errors that present real risks for U.S. national space power.

This article appeared in inFocus, Fall 2010, Volume IV: Number 3


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