Why U.S. Space Policy Must Change In Order To Open The Space Frontier

by William H. Mook, Jr.

National space policy is administered in three broad areas:

  1. Defense related space capability - managed by DOD

  2. Civilian space capability - managed by NASA

  3. Commercial space capability - managed by vendor.

The organizing principles of US space policy is also clear.

  • The security of the United States takes precedence over all other space matters.

  • Scientific investigation, technological developments, and international cooperative activites take precedence over commercial needs.

  • Commercial benefits must flow to the general population of the United States and improve the quality of life on earth before any single company or individual can benefit.

  • No single individual or private company may benefit from past investments made by the people of the United States in space technology or assets.

  • Finally, the United States is signatory to several space law treaties which prohibit the ownership of property or the economic exploitation of extraterrestrial bodies.

    This strictly socialist straightjacket has led predictably to lackluster interest of commercial entities in the potential of space based assets. The political, technological, and financial risks are too great to sustain any real private interest in this environment.

    To change this situation US space policy must change.

    We must first recognize that profit and ownership is good.

    It the possibility of profit that attracts investments needed to make use of resources in the frontier The ability to own those assets and the things those assets produce lead the owners to naturally develop, preserve, and expand assets that are profitable within the frontier.

    Next, we must understand that the security of the United States means nothing if within that security US citizens and companies are not permitted the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

    Private space travel has associated with it significant military, security, safety and defense implications. Quite frankly, the presence of large numbers of privately owned spacecraft exploiting resources throughout the Solar System is militarily uncontrollable. But so are large numbers of private aircraft and large numbers of private ocean transports. Freedom of speech has significant security implications. But we would no longer be America if in the interests of increased security we prohibited free speech. We must modify our approach to defense issues for the new age of space travel and accept the risks of our freedoms as we alway have in other areas.

    Finally, we must understand that a civilian space program must operate in support of private commercial interests. NASA's management, research, and testing infrastructure can contribute mightily to commercial space interests. But it must be the commercial interests that define the civilian need, not the other way round.

    If these changes in policy preceed any effort to dispose of operational centers and hardware, we could expect significant interest in acquisition of these. IF policy remains unchanged, any offer to sell operating space launch assets will be greeted coldly. They will only be purchased if the government pays the acquirer to do so and guarantees government purchases of some sort. If this path is chosen, we will have the same space program we have now, but just a different rhetoric.

    If we had vital development on our global frontier - the solar system, there would be a natural flow of agressive, greedy, adventurous people from the center who wish to 'strike it rich' on the frontier.

    There would also be a natural flow of resources and services from the frontier toward the center. In this environment there would emerge the idea that society was full of open ended possibility. People would no longer look at the wealth of their neighbor with envy. They would instead look toward the frontier where their plans and goals for the future can be made real.

    To sum up then, our policy in space is the reverse of what it should be. If we wish to develop and exploit the solar system:

    1. Commercial and private interests take precedence over all others. Taxes are not incurred, and regulation is least restrictive. Ownership and development of extraterrestrial resources should be encouraged in the law.

    2. Civilian space activities are deployed in support of private and commercial interests. (It is the business of the US space program to make a profit!)

    3. Military space activities are deployed in support of civilian and commerical and private needs. They keep the peace in the frontier and settle disputes over new territories with those from other nations.

    If these policy changes were made, no new technology, no new education, would be needed. Hundreds of billions of dollars would flow into the emerging "space business" every year. Profits made would be reinvested. Within five to eight years perhaps as much as $10 trillion in space assets would be created and $2 trillion to $3 trillion per year in new wealth would be created by these growing space operations.