In a new policy study, two veterans of the private space launch industry say it’s time for a U.S. space strategy that builds on the now-proven capabilities of the entrepreneurial space sector as an integral component. Over the coming decade, it would shift NASA’s primary role to research and exploration, while enabling the private sector to develop a viable space industry. This would include transportation but also an array of new industries based on space resources.
This is the first study to present a realistic space industry development scenario, with a 10-year timeline of potential commercial developments, given various legal and policy changes. It draws on historical examples (development of the western United States, ocean shipping, commercial aviation) in which government policies have played key roles, but the private sector’s entrepreneurial innovations and large-scale investments enabled sustainable development. It also explains how the historical government-led development of space capabilities is now limiting the potential of a serious space industry.
Commercial potential discussed in the study includes:
- Tapping space-based clean energy sources;
- Mining asteroids for useful raw materials;
- Developing safe venues for new scientific experiments;
- Sequestering hazardous but valuable debris in space;
- Tapping sources of water in space, for several important uses;
- And using low-gravity and low-temperature properties of space for research and manufacturing.
The study lays out a timeframe for initial development that could be accomplished within the current NASA budget, to include:
- Orbital fuel depots;
- Fuel from water (hydrogen and oxygen);
- A shuttle to and from the lunar surface;
- Lunar facilities to produce water and aluminum;
- And an earth-orbital facility complex to replace the International Space Station.
Over this initial decade, the private sector would eventually assume responsibility for all space transportation, supported either commercially or by contracts from NASA, the Department of Defense, etc. This would free up federal funding for some of the initial infrastructure needed for commercial space development, much as the original transcontinental railroad was developed as a public-private partnership between the federal government and railroads. The government would need to develop a more investor-friendly legal regime for space development and should focus more of NASA’s resources on research, especially on human health in space.
The 86-page study is organized as follows:
- Space’s Potential for Solving Major Earth Problems
- From Exploration to Commercialization
- U.S. Space Travel: Current vs. New Paradigm
- A New Approach to NASA Funding
- Triggering the Virtuous Cycle, without Additional NASA Funding
- Government’s New Role in Space
Authors Jeff Greason and James Bennett have extensive experience in commercial space ventures.
Greason was a founder and initial CEO of commercial space company XCOR Aerospace, with prior experience at Rotary Rocket and Intel. In 2009 he was a member of the Augustine Committee on U.S. human space flight plans. He co-founded the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and served as one of its director for many years. He was involved with the passage of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 and served on the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) for many years. Greason is currently chief technology officer of Electric Sky. He is an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a governor of the National Space Society, and holds 25 U.S. patents.
James Bennett was a co-founder of two space-launch start-ups, Starstruck, Inc. and American Rocket Company, which pioneered hybrid rocket propulsion. He served on the 1984 White House Task Force on Space Commercialization and was later a member of the Secretary of Transportation’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC). Currently a consultant on commercial space, he is space fellow of the Economic Policy Center, London, and a fellow of the Centennial Institute in Golden, CO. He is also a former board member of the National Space Society.