Peter Garretson: What the New President Needs to Know about Space

NSS Director Peter Garretson has just published a significant article on what the new President likely won’t be hearing about space, but should be. Here are some excerpts:

It is no secret that the last National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 spectacularly missed space. The question is — will this next Global Trends, due in December 2016, miss it again?
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“The Moon could serve as a new and tremendous supplier of energy and resources for human beings,” said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China’s Moon-exploration program. “This is crucial to sustainable development of human beings on Earth. … Whoever first conquers the Moon will benefit first.”
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Our long-term goal is to explore, land and settle [the Moon],” chimed in Wu Weiren, China’s chief designer for Moon missions. More recently, Lt Gen. Zhang Yulin — deputy chief of the Chinese military’s armament-development department, suggested that “China would next begin to exploit Earth-Moon space for industrial development. The goal would be the construction of space-based solar power satellites that would beam energy back to Earth.”
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“Thus, the state has decided that power coming from outside of the Earth, such as solar power and development of other space energy resources, is to be China’s future direction,” wrote Gao Ji, Hou Xinbin and Wang Li from the China Academy of Space Technology.
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The lack of cognizance by policymakers constitutes grounds for strategic surprise. “China had built up a solid industrial foundation, acquired sufficient technology and had enough money to carry out the most ambitious space project in history,” wrote Wang Xiji, designer of China’s first carrier rocket. “Once completed, the solar station, with a capacity of 100 megawatts, would span at least one square kilometer, dwarfing the International Space Station and becoming the biggest man-made object in space.”
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In the absence of anything resembling a space development or space industrialization policy, U.S. companies are going abroad and interesting new actors are appearing on the scenes. Luxemburg courts U.S.-based space mining companies, Dubai woos U.S.-based space solar power companies.
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Specifically, NIC Global Trends scenarios need to specifically address lunar and asteroid mining, space solar power, and space settlement. These are important topics to explore because there is both a range of serious actors working in this space and because these could have vast societal consequences.
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In the United States, these underlying societal attitudes are manifesting themselves in the exploits of self-financing industrialists such as Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla, Paypal), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin, Amazon), Paul Allen (Vulcan Aerospace, Microsoft) and Robert Bigelow. Musk is building rockets and a space-based internet not for their own sakes, but to finance taking millions of people to build a city on Mars and become a multi-planet civilization. “In terms of the first [manned] flight to Mars, we are hoping to do that around 2025,” Musk said. Bezos openly talks about a vision of “millions of people living and working in space” and moving heavy industry and energy to space in order to save Earth.
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All of this reflects a shift in societal attitude rejecting space exploration for space exploration sake, or for the sake of “showing off” in favor of viewing space exploration as an activity we do toward some larger end — species survival, space settlement, space industrialization, space resources. Changing ends will result in different outcomes.
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Small programmatic decisions by this president-elect will or will not position U.S. companies to be at the forefront of a new commercial age of space. These near term decisions may decide the speed at which an end-to-end space transportation and supply chain are built to incorporate the solar system into our economic sphere of influence, including promoting or hindering the development of commercial fully-reusable launch vehicles — a lead the United States should consolidate.

Read the whole article.

 

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