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With some minimal degree of normalcy returning to Washington, the Legislative and Executive Branches should cast about for bipartisan opportunities to advance a jointly beneficial agenda. Not every issue is imbued with the utmost partisanship. Space policy is such a candidate for progress.
The sheer impact of the space domain on every facet of American life is extraordinary. We live in an age where the entire planet is imaged daily from low-Earth orbit. From farming to pharmacology, virtually every aspect of the global economy is influenced by the data process capabilities borne by space-based assets.
Yet U.S. clout in the realm of space is ebbing. Policymakers need to arrest this trend, and fast. Secretary Ross, speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in December, bluntly stated that ensuring the U.S. remains the flag of choice for commercial space is “imperative to our economic growth, American jobs, human development, and national security.”
The Executive Branch has been doing its part. Space Policy Directive 2 set forth a bold governmental reorganization architecture necessary for the competitive growth of the space sector. Key elements of the interagency plan include consolidating Department of Commerce responsibilities for commercial space flight activities. Under the steady leadership of Kevin O’Connell, this new office is critical for enabling the emerging industry.
Across the range of Space Policy Directives, Congress has been given a blueprint from which to work, and the bipartisan Space Frontier Act was a good first step. But as technology must evolve from design to development to deployment in linear progression, so too must this legislation.
With the shadow of another shutdown, or the bane of additional continuing resolutions, new and necessary federal programs are curtailed or even shelved. As the commercial space economy requires action to promote and facilitate its growth, the sector is particularly at risk. As Tom Donohue, CEO and President of the U.S. Chamber wrote, “Whether or not they know it, all companies will soon be space companies. And all consumers use space-based technology each and every day.”
Significantly, as Kevin O’Connell noted, these recent proposals are designed to spur commercial expansion in the use of space, but encouragement “doesn’t mean permissionless.” O’Connell observed the slate of Department of Commerce recommendations to Congress “means that we’re sensible and fast and efficient in allowing companies to take a shot at some of these newer concepts that are out there.”
Suffice to say, legislation along the lines of the administration’s directives is essential to proper regulatory implementation and agency resourcing for these additive commercial missions. Nascent industries such as the commercial space sector demand continual interaction among the constituent federal oversight agencies, and the various proposals to date are all worthy of focus and attention. Regulatory equilibrium is essential from the Department of Commerce to the FAA and FCC.
As technology pushes innovation, space policy must be implemented on a rolling basis to ensure American launch companies, operators, and service suppliers maintain their qualitative edge. Despite the chasm across parties and branches of government, this is one area of shared purpose and worthy of progress.