Headlines > News > Space Race 2: The feds weigh in

Space Race 2: The feds weigh in

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Tue Jan 11, 2005 9:20 pm
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washtimes.com: Cape Canaveral, FL, Jan. 11 (UPI) — The Bush administration, with little fanfare, last week unveiled the first update in a decade to the country’s official space transportation policy.

The eight-page directive, released by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, significantly expands the role of the private sector in space transportation and, for the first time, specifically mentions commercial human spaceflight.

“It recognizes the tremendous potential and strength of the private sector,” noted Space Foundation chief executive Elliot Pulham, in a statement released after the directive’s unveiling Jan. 6.
Not that the nascent commercial space transit industry has been awaiting government sanctioning. The poster child of commercial spaceflight — SpaceShipOne — made its triple sub-orbital run last fall to win a contest that specifically forbade government backing.

Now, the official policy of federal government agencies is to “encourage, facilitate and promote U.S. commercial space transportation activities, including commercial human spaceflight,” the directive says.
“Major changes are needed … to ensure America’s access to space and protect vital security and economic interests,” space policy consultant James Muncy, whose clients include several commercial spaceflight firms, commented on a space-related Web log.

“A significant downturn in the market for commercial launch services has undermined for the time being the ability of industry to recoup its significant investment in current launch systems and effectively precludes industry from sustaining a robust international and technology base sufficient to meet all United States government needs,” government officials wrote in a backgrounder to the directive.

“To assure access to space for United States government payloads … (the) government must provide sufficient and stable funding for acquisition of U.S. space transportation capability in order to create a climate in which a robust space transportation industrial and technology base can flourish,” the background document continues.

The directive orders federal agencies and departments to:

–purchase commercially available U.S. space transportation products and services to the maximum extent possible;

–provide a timely and responsive regulatory environment for licensing commercial space launch and re-entry activities;

–continue indemnification of U.S. commercial space transportation activities to prevent insurance costs from stifling the industry before it has a chance to become established;

–refrain from conducting activities with commercial applications that preclude, deter or compete with U.S. commercial space transportation activities, except when national security is involved;

–involve the U.S. private sector in the design and development of space transportation capability to meet U.S. government needs;

–provide stable and “predictable” access to federal space launch bases, ranges and other government facilities — except when national security and critical mission requirements take precedence — for commercial purposes, and charge users only for direct costs of using government assets;

–encourage the private sector, as well as local and state governments, to develop and use of launch facilities and support services, including non-federal launch and re-entry sites, and

–ensure the private sector retains its technical data rights in dealings with the government.

The policy also delineates which federal agencies and departments are responsible for various space activities, with the Department of Transportation overseeing private-sector and non-federal launch and re-entry operations and spaceports. NASA and the Department of Defense are directed to assist DOT with establishing common public safety requirements and the Department of Commerce, along with Transportation, is ordered to take a proactive role in promoting commercial space.

“To exploit space to the fullest extent requires a fundamental transformation in U.S. space transportation and infrastructure,” a senior White House official told UPI’s Space Race 2. “The United States must capitalize on the entrepreneurial spirit of the U.S. private sector, which offers new approaches and technology innovation.”

The directive notes that improvements in the reliability, responsiveness and cost of space transportation would have “a profound impact on the ability to protect the nation, explore the solar system, improve lives and use space for commercial purposes.”

The new administration policy clarifies what has been and probably will continue to be a bone of contention among some launch service providers — the use of decommissioned ballistic missiles. The White House has decided to limit severely the commercial use of excess ballistic missiles in an attempt to slow the spread of missile technology and protect economic interests.

“Excess U.S. ballistic missiles shall either be retained for government use of destroyed,” the directive states, although it adds that, subject to approval by the Secretary of Defense, government agencies can use excess ballistic missiles to launch their own payloads, provided certain conditions are met. The proposals will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

The government also will consider individual requests by U.S. companies to use foreign ballistic missiles for space launches and allowing non-U.S. space transportation systems to operate in the United States “for commercial purposes, including exhibitions and demonstrations,” the directive states.

Several non-U.S. firms entered the $10 million Ansari X Prize competition, which Scaled Composites Inc. of Mojave, Calif. — SpaceShipOne’s owner — won last October. These firms presumably are interested in the follow-on program called the X Prize Cup, an annual showcase of reusable sub-orbital spaceships and rocketry to be held in New Mexico.

In addition to expanding commercial space activities, the new space transportation directive reiterates the Bush administration’s commitment to return the shuttle fleet to flight, and then retire the ships after the International Space Station’s completion — expected around 2010. It also puts in writing Bush’s vision for space exploration, which was announced Jan. 14, 2004, and which directs NASA to expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and develop a plan to return to the moon and, eventually, beyond.

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