Space in the Spotlight

There’s a lot of excitement on Florida’s space coast as NASA gears up to launch the next great era of human space exploration, and private sector firms like Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX bring new energy to the burgeoning commercial space economy. The growing importance of space was highlighted on Wednesday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center during the second meeting of the newly reconstituted National Space Council; a welcome sign of the high-level attention this administration is giving to space.

Vice President Mike Pence addresses the National Space Council on Feb. 21, 2018. Photo: NASA

Chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, the meeting featured remarks by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford and the President’s National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, along with several industry CEOs and space luminaries such as Buzz Aldrin.

Much of discussion focused on the commercial space economy and the need to improve or reduce regulations that stand in the way of this market reaching its full potential. AIA is encouraged that the participants focused on the need to protect space spectrum and streamline the licensing of commercial launches, policies advocated in our space competitiveness report, Engine for Growth. We remain concerned, however, that little attention was paid to the fact that the United States lacks a fully functioning Export-Import Bank. The absence of Bank support for the export of U.S. satellite and space launch systems means our country is potentially losing billions in job-creating export sales. Other nations use their export credit agencies to grow their space industries; we should not keep putting American space companies at a disadvantage.

Concept Imagery of the Deep Space Gateway, a proposed NASA Moon mission. Photo: NASA

Another area that did not receive as much attention as hoped was the President’s budget request for NASA – $19.9 billion in FY19. This modest budget increase of $200 million over the last enacted NASA appropriations bill doesn’t even keep pace with inflation, despite Administration calls for NASA to take on a more robust human exploration program and put people back on the moon. NASA can and should take advantage of commercial space where it makes sense to save costs – as it already does for launch services, International Space Station cargo resupply, and soon, commercial crew launches. But NASA’s budget, adjusted for inflation, is still far below where it was in the early 1990s, as I wrote earlier this week in the Orlando Sentinel. Expecting NASA to do so much more with less makes no sense.

On a more positive note, the President’s 2019 budget request highlighted an extra $1 billion for national security space programs, and plans to seek $8 billion over the next five years. These important new investments address some of the concerns we outlined in the Engine for Growth report.

It’s worth noting that the National Space Council used the meeting to announce the appointment of a User Advisory group – 29 experts in space issues to help guide the council in its work, including AIA Member CEOs Wes Bush (Northrop Grumman), Marillyn Hewson (Lockheed Martin), Dennis Muilenburg (Boeing), Fatih Ozmen (Sierra Nevada), and David Thompson (Orbital ATK). Let’s hope this group can advise the Council on some of these missed opportunities to assure continued U.S. space leadership.

Vice President Pence and the Trump Administration have taken some very visible and positive steps to emphasize the importance of space to our nation. Now we need to make certain the promise of this council is fully realized.