Opinion: Thoughts on a Proposed Space Policy for the Trump Administration

Michael Weinhoffer/Staff Reporter

Experts at the Center for a New American Security think tank published a report that proposes a space policy for the Trump administration on Oct. 23rd. The proposed policy is divided into three focus areas: civil exploration, commercial exploitation, and national security. The report provides a good deal of historical context and presents some new ideas on how to resolve the biggest space policy challenges. This is the first full space policy proposal for the Trump administration that I have found, and I hope many more are to follow.

The authors note that the Trump administration will be the first administration in the 21st Century that will not be concerned with a major war overseas. The Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan had a significant impact on the legislative accomplishments of the past two presidencies. This includes developments in the human exploration of outer space. NASA’s bold plans to return to the Moon were finalized in 2005 under the Bush Administration, and the Constellation Program seemed to be the successor to the Space Shuttles and would finally bring us back to the Moon. However, due to massive cost overruns, the program was canceled in 2011 under the Obama administration. Soon after, work on NASA’s current system, the Space Launch System, began, but that too is facing cost overruns and constant delays. Unfortunately, its future is also becoming increasingly uncertain as Congress is losing faith in NASA to deliver on its promises. There is no better president to correct the situation than Donald Trump. With less of a national security burden on his shoulders, Trump has the opportunity to restore American leadership in outer space and produce job growth numbers this nation has not seen in decades.

The report offers suggestions on how the Trump administration can do just that. There are two components to a civil exploration space policy: unmanned and manned exploration. The U.S. has sent at least one spacecraft to every planet in the Solar System, which is an incredible accomplishment. The U.S. alone has sent twenty-one spacecraft to Mars, and two more missions, InSight and the Mars 2020, rover will land on the Red Planet in Nov. 2018 and
Jan/March 2021 respectively. The Parker Solar Probe and the James Webb Telescope will also help expand our knowledge of the universe. As the authors note, although the missions are costly, they are vital to the development of new capabilities and technologies. NASA’s SLS was not discussed in the report, but ULA (United Launch Alliance) is recognized as a reliable private-public partnership, and ULA rockets will launch four out of the five next unmanned NASA missions. The authors emphasize the importance of synergy between unmanned and manned missions, as unmanned missions develop crucial technologies that will make manned missions possible. The Trump administration must emphasize the necessity of making the two components of civil exploration work together.

    As for the commercial space sector, the authors recommend that the administration should strengthen the partnership between NASA and the private sector by supporting projects that the commercial sector is willing to lead, such as asteroid mining or planetary colonization. The authors also suggest modifying export controls, so private companies can get the components they need from overseas without going through bureaucratic hurdles. President Trump needs to continue to strengthen the partnership between the public and private space sectors, which will cause massive job growth.

   To protect the U.S. space sector, national security measures must be increased in outer space. China and Russia have stockpiles of anti-satellite weapons, and North Korea has launched missiles high into outer space, threatening satellites and the International Space Station. The authors suggest that a key component of Trump’s policy should be to continue the Air Force’s X-37B program, which consists of a mini-space shuttle testing national security technology, but in a non-aggressive way. The administration must also ensure access to space by partnering with allies to use their launch sites in case an enemy disables one of the nation’s launch sites. Finally, the authors suggest that the U.S. should cluster sensing satellites together to create “forts” in outer space that defend critical assets, such as communications and GPS satellites. Implementing these measures will undoubtedly enable the continued growth of the space sector while our exploration initiatives are protected by the very best space-based technologies.

    A big step for the Trump administration with regards to space policy was the reestablishment of the National Space Council. The Council must be used properly to both coordinate the private and public space sectors and reorganize NASA’s manned exploration plans. Vice President Pence announced at the first meeting of the Council that NASA will be returning humans to the Moon. The statement is in direct conflict with NASA’s original plan to go to Mars and use the Moon only as a gateway to Mars. These plans need to be clarified fast before NASA becomes lost in space. Additionally, NASA recently announced that while they are pushing for the first flight of SLS in Dec. 2019, June 2020 seems like a more reasonable launch date. Something must be done by the administration to minimize these numerous launch delays. If the Trump administration addresses the challenges with SLS and creates a policy based on the three components discussed in the CNAS report, we will be much closer to going anywhere in outer space than we are now. President Trump is the best president to right the wrong in space and set a new course of American exploration.