New Space Policy

Ok, I finally got around to perusing the new US National Space Policy that came out a few weeks ago. Most of the noise I’ve heard so far has been by people attacking the policy for being too belligerent. While I can see one or two sentences in there that could possibly have ominous interpretations, I think that some of the rhetoric in that direction is a wee bit overblown. It is a wee bit belligerent, but I don’t think the current administration could recite their ABCs without being at least a little bit bellicose. You live, you die, you get over it.

What deserves far more attention was all the language in there regarding commercial space. I’ll just quote a bunch of it:

From the last bullet point in Section Four [emphasis added in italics]:

Strengthen and Maintain the U.S. Space-Related Science, Technology, and
Industrial Base.
A robust science, technology, and industrial base is critical for U.S. space capabilities. Departments and agencies shall: encourage new discoveries in space science and new applications of technology; and enable future space systems to achieve new and improved capabilities, including incentives for high-risk/high-payoff and transformational space capabilities. Additionally, departments and agencies shall: conduct the basic and applied research that increases capability and decreases cost; encourage an innovative commercial space sector, including the use of prize competitions; and ensure the availability of space related industrial capabilities in support of critical government functions.

That part about space prizes is amusing seeing as how the two agencies offering prizes (DARPA and NASA) are either being stripped by Congress of funding or authorization for doing such prizes. Hopefully that can be fixed before too late. It’s already a pity that such a miniscule part of DARPA and NASA’s funding is going to such productive ends–outright eliminating those prizes would be a travesty.

There were lots of other good quotes in Section Seven [also with emphasis added]:

Use U.S. commercial space capabilities and services to the maximum practical extent; purchase commercial capabilities and services when they are available in the commercial marketplace and meet United States Government requirements; and modify commercially available capabilities and services to meet those United States Government requirements when the modification is cost effective;

Develop systems when it is in the national interest and there is no suitable, cost effective U.S. commercial or, as appropriate, foreign commercial service or system that is or will be available when required;

Continue to include and increase U.S. private sector participation in the design and
development of United States Government space systems and infrastructures;

Refrain from conducting activities that preclude, deter, or compete with U.S. commercial space activities, unless required by national security or public safety;

Is anyone else surprised that Griffin isn’t trying to draw too much attention to this new policy? I have to admit that this policy is overall pretty darned good. Especially the section seven stuff. I tend to be rather hard on this administration when they do stupid stuff, but I think that I ought to at least say something good when they come up with a good policy.

Now it’d be nice if they actually had the balls to tell Griffin to actually pay attention to it. Anyone want to guess what the probability of that is?

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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4 Responses to New Space Policy

  1. Ed says:

    Based on some of the decisions that he has made so far in his tenure (and based on some comments he made long before he got the top job at NASA), I’d say that the odds are pretty high that Griffin is paying attention – certainly far more so than Goldin. While I personally would rather that NASA abandon the Stick and Shaft, Griffin can’t simply cut those programs with the stroke of a pen. He needs political cover, with the Administration backing him up against Congress, in order to take the necessary steps to 1/ cut down on the size of NASA bureaucracy 2/ shut down some centers 3/ cancel the Stick and Shaft in favor of private solutions.

  2. Jon Goff says:

    You know what? I think you might be right. At least, it’s plausible enough that it might still be worth giving Griffin himself the benefit of the doubt on this. Leaving him political cover, giving him personally the benefit of the doubt (while continuing to critique the technical part of the current approach, and dispel incorrect assumptions about better alternative approaches) is probably a better way for me to keep going about this.



  3. Mark says:

    Ed & Jon – That’s not going to happen. The problem is that people want to get into a fight with NASA about hardware, a fight that I can assure you it will win every time.

    The trick to improving VSE is to refine the goal. Right now the goal is –in part–to return people to the Moon period. The Ares 1 and Ares 5 does that.

    However, let us say that the goal, not just articulated by Griffin, but as a matter of national policy is to found space settlements on the Moon, Mars, etc. Then you have the basis for a good argument to change/add hardware and–more importantly–policy

  4. tankmodeler says:

    >>The problem is that people want to get into a fight with NASA about hardware, a fight that I can assure you it will win every time.

    I agree, but it comes down to what side does NASA line up its hardware might on? If you take a look at the underlying assumptions that NASA is currently betting the farm on (i.e. no assembly or refueling in space, fewer launches is less risky than more, etc) if they are motivated to change those assumptions based upon the president’s directive and Griffin wanting to go a different way, then the hardware arguments can be pitched to come down on the side of going commercial and using NASA talent to shoot for Mars and not the moon.

    Talk to any accountant. They’ll all tell you they can make the numbers say anything you want, with the right assumptions.

    NASA has been told that to survive, they need to make the Stick & Shaft look like the only game in town. Griffin is certainly in a position to tell the architecture teams that the underlying assumptions are now different and to see where that takes the program.

    I bet if assembly, fueling or multiple flights are seen in a more rational light, and there is a concerted effort to focus the NASA effort on Mars letting commercial intersts have a free rein to get to orbit and the moon, they it will happen quicker and less expensively than under the current plan.

    Of course, as I have said before, the moon has to be worth going to and that will require somebody endorsing and protecting commercial property rights on the Moon.


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