Or Reassert US International Leadership in Space.
The Congressional elections upcoming in November (are) gaining momentum, but for Americans, horror of horrors, the 2016 Presidential Campaign will also begin its deafening two year acceleration. Is there anyone who doesn’t think that Hillary Clinton, barring only illness, or injury or death, will not seek and win the Democratic nomination for the 2016 Campaign? If the US economy continues on its slow pace of improvement, and to look at the strength of the stock market and NASDQ there might even be a more optimistic economic climate during 2015 and 2016. So the prospects for a Democratic candidate might be supported by a stronger economic picture and the economic mandate of heaven may fall on the first woman President.
While my Republican friends cannot identify any comparable candidate for 2016 I will provocatively take advantage of this Presidential Candidate Gap between the Democrats and Republicans to speculate on what Hillary Clinton might do in space policy as a Presidential candidate and if she were elected as President. I would remind those skeptical of this speculation, that Hillary Clinton distinguished herself from the field of competing /democratic candidates in the 2008 Presidential primary election campaign by giving a speech devote to space. She selected the talented space strategy advisor Lori Garver, who later was appointed NASA Deputy Administrator by Obama and who championed the successful Commercial Crew and Cargo programs in spite of the opposition of the SLS supporters in Congress. None of the other candidates campaigned on space. Perhaps they were thinking that space has a niche constituency in districts where there were NASA centers or large NASA contractors and that space did not present much of a wedge issue for the general electorate which was much more concerned about their jobs and the cooling state of the economy.
So will the past be prologue to the 2016 campaign of Hillary Clinton? I think so.
I First, Hillary as a candidate must distinguish herself from her predecessor whose popularity has fallen. She must find acceptable ways to repudiate unpopular Obama policies and more importantly provide some fresh ideas and a sense of optimism about why she is running and what she will do if elected.
Space as a national issue presents some opportunities and threats as a wedge issue in this campaign.
Some momentous things are happening. NASA has been torn between the Congressional constituency backing the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion capsule program backed by powerful Republican Senators and the Obama administration’s focus on contracted capabilities and technology innovation.
II The Gift of Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew
The Obama administration has scored a major success with its Commercial Cargo program to the International Space Station which has successfully provided two contractors (Space -X and Orbital Sciences with successful missions to the ISS by their Dragon and Cygnus cargo vehicles respectively).
The Obama administration has also fought for the commercial crew program with contracts to Space -X for the manned Dragon capsule, to Boeing for the CST-100 capsule, and to Sierra Nevada for the Dream Chaser “mini-shuttle.” The Dragon capsule and the Boeing CST-100 are likely to fly in 2017 just as a new President takes office, presenting another prospect for national pride in a NASA public private collaboration. These commercial programs will also end the huge subsidies being paid to the Russians for the delivery of American astronauts to the ISS. Hillary can argue that this program should create more American Space jobs and help to revitalize the American Space Industry. Hillary can also campaign on ending the Russian subsidy by making a commitment to all three American commercial crew contractors. Space -X, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada.
III The Times They Are A Chan gin’
There are however dark clouds gathering for the NASA kingdom especially when it comes to manned spaceflight and heavy lift launches, an area in which it has had a monopoly position since the 1960’s.
1 The Space-X company is about to demonstrate its ability to provide a reusable Falcon 9 launch system and dramatically lower the cost of launching things into space.
2 Early in 2014 Space-X is also expected to launch the Falcon 9 Heavy. Space X- is also expected to launch another Falcon 9 Heavy for the Air Force in 2015. This is two years ahead of the SLS unmanned launch in 2017 and seven years before a manned launch in 2022 with an Orion capsule is anticipated.
3 These developments will create the conditions for the cancellation of the SLS Heavy lift launcher. A Falcon 9 Heavy system launch will cost less than 1/6th the cost of a $2Billion SLS system launch.
This is a huge wedge issue for the Republican Red States of Alabama, Texas, and Florida where the SLS and Orion have the most impact. If the Republicans pursue a relentless program of cutting the Federal across the board they set themselves up to see Obama or an incoming President Hillary Clinton reward them with a cancellation of this unsustainable budgetary boondoggle launch system.
By perpetuating a boondoggle porkbarrel program they have set up their NASA center constituents for extinction.
4 President Hillary Clinton can counter this reduction in NASA’s in-house SLS program with contracts for lower cost space missions in Florida at KSC, in Texas, from a newly developing spaceport in Texas that Space-X is developing near Brownsville, as well as the Mid-Atlantic range on Wallops Island, and Vandenberg. Spaceport American in New Mexico will also be another bright spot for the American Space Industry with Virgin Galactic expected to begin commercial service by the end of 2014
and the potential for subsequent Stratolaunch operations.
IV Extend the ISS to 2028
There is another card that President Hillary can play in response to an SLS cancellation and to differentiate herself from President’s space policy. She can build on her experience as Secretary of State and reassert strong Presidential international leadership in space by building on the foundation of the ISS partnership by announcing her support for the extension of the ISS program until 2028 during her campaign. This will please our international partners who have been shocked at the prospect that NASA announced that it would deorbit the ISS in 2016, and who fought vociferously for its extension to 2020. Russia even announced that it would maintain its components independent of NASAs exit to the ocean. This extension is a policy already being negotiated at present by the ISS partners. Reusable Falcon 9 missions will greatly reduce the expense of maintaining this ISS program for the US and regain the confidence of our ISS partners in this stable space program commitment. This also keeps much of the NASA HEOMD, the biggest share of NASA’s budget moving forward with operations at JSC, Marshall, and KSC.
V The Next Big Thing: E-M L2 Gateway to Mars and Beyond
Hillary can also build on this announcement with another riposte to the Republicans. She can also announce that the US will use its reusable space launch heavy lift capacity to build an international Gateway Station at the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2 and invite our ISS partners to build the highway to return to the Moon and advance to Mars and the asteroids. The US would then joining the existing international consensus of its ISS partners that the Moon is the next destination and stepping stone on the way to Mars. This would also be a program of shared expenses and support building on the success of the International Space Station but also expanding the partnership to include new partners such as India, Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Ukraine that share both the risks, expenses, and rewards. This would increase American Space jobs by increasing the flight rate at American Spaceports, maintain existing contractors, and develop new contractors such as Bigelow which can reduce the cost of a new space station while doubling its size with inflatable modules.
VI To Mars via a CisLunar Highway
There is within NASA a strong anti-lunar program bias that has resulted in an Asteroids and Mars First national space policy that has created strong rifts with our international ISS partners. NASA HQ has preferred to sacrifice the Moon and our position of international leadership for a Mars Program that has had triumphant landings but been shortsighted in starving the development of our space infrastructure for the future. Hillary is going to have to break some eggs to redo the NASA omelet and what NASA’s republican critics and others such as the Space Foundation have criticized as a drift in policy. It is time to replace much of the geriatric leadership at the top of NASA and get some fresh blood with renewed vision in place. Another critical new piece of this strategy is the development of
space refueling depots that reduce costs for reusable in-space tugs and terries from LEO to GEO and E-M Lagrange point and eventually to Mars.
VII Building Momentum for Clean Energy from Space
Hillary can also address the issue of global climate change and the requirements for clean and sustainable energy by creating an international initiative to develop space solar power satellites as the former President of India Dr. Abdul Kalam has advocated in partnership with the National Space Society. Both China, India, and Japan are interested in the prospects of space solar power and the Chinese have recently devoted more resources to this area. Bold US leadership can create an expansion of the commercial satellite industry from a $200B plus industry to a Multi-Trillion dollar industry over the next several decades that can provide clean energy to the entire world, stop fossil fueled climate change, provide enough energy for continued global economic growth, continue the global rise in living standards, eliminate the scarcity of fresh water supplies, and provide the economic resources to reduce environmental destruction and the human environmental footprint.
VIII Restore the Vigor of the Space Exploration Program and Science Mission Directorate
The NASA Science Mission Directorate has suffered a slow down in the tempo of it new missions, eliminated new lunar initiatives, and struggled to maintain its position as the crown jewel in the scientific achievements of the United States. With much reduced launch costs this situation can be reversed.
NASA can also increase its use of smaller cube satellite secondary launch missions to permit a new generation of young scientists to initiate a new wave of solar system explanation. New solar electric and ion propulsion technologies will continue to lower costs because many of these missions will have lower mass, lower volume, lower power, and lower temperature capabilities than the older Billion dollar “Christmas tree” deep space missions. The New Space Technology Mission Directorate will provide the technological innovations to bring a this new generation of spacecraft and explorers into action also with advanced laser optical communications. A “GPS” system for cisluanr space is another major international initiative that will provide the US with another position of strong leadership.
A renewed focus on international collaboration with Earth Observations and Environmental Protection systems is another area where the next President can strengthen US leadership and restore its championship of the environmental movement with its earth science initiatives and funding again benefitting from smaller and less expensive spacecraft systems.
This is another area where international collaborations will also make a renewed wave of exploration more affordable and collaborative. Many nations that previously could not afford to participate will now be able have a seat at the table and to collaborate with the US Universities and young scientists. The NASA Lunar Science Institute with its several international partnerships can be a leading edge in this program that builds global partners and a new generation of young space scientists from around the world. With ts new name Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute can be the tip of spear in this regard in partnership.
The NASA Space Grant network in all the states of the Union can be used to distribute these mission opportunities and resources with a reinvigorated NASA Space Grant Program that benefits from the competitive awards to the entrepreneurial style of small university based teams. GLXP teams from Carnegie Mellon (Astrobotic) and Penn State (Penn State Lunar lions) are good examples of this model.These teams can also be well aligned with the STMD SBIR and TTR programs for commercialization of new technologies and applications.
IX Space Tourism
The next President will see an expansion of the commercial manned suborbital launch industry. Virgin Galactic is most likely to be the first such commercial service starting in late 2014 or early 2015 if the FAA certification process proceeds apace. Stratolaunch, Blue Origin, and X-Cor are also pushing to join Virgin Galactic in the space tourism industry. The next administration should provide a climate to insure that the place the global public can get into space is in the United States.
X Space Debris and Salvage
Hillary Clinton can also shape the future of the global space industry by providing a strong
international initiative on the limitation of space debris and the initiation of a new international program to salvage dead satellites and reuse their metals as the low hanging fruit of demonstrating the use of in situ resources. Other technical means such as use of in-space and or ground lasers to deorbit
space debris should be negotiated with transparent protocols and technology so that the problems of “dual use” do not prevent tackling and solving this impediment to the safety and security of space operations and facilities.
I have outlined the opportunities for Hillary Clinton as a candidate and as a successor to President Obama in US Space Policy. The same program could be adapted by Republican candidates to their own political advantage. If Hillary does not take an activist position on space then the Republicans could use these as wedge issues in their own campaigns.
Thus far the Republicans have weakened their appeal with conventional pork barrel programs such as the SLS (the genetic successor to the Constellation Ares V Program ) which is financially unsustainable at $ 2 Billion a pop, as the last Augustine Commission clearly reported in 2009.
They have weakened the NASA budget for commercial crew programs which has delayed the advent of US Companies in providing manned access to the ISS by 2015 to 2017 at the earliest. This delay has continued to subsidize the Russians as a result and to the tune of $400Million annually. Those making mindless budget cuts have practiced a false economy which is destructive of both our short and long term national interests and international space leadership position.
In the 2012 Republican primary race Mitt Romney laughed at the space advocacy of Newt Gingrich, a long time supporter of the US Space Program. Mitt no doubt is not laughing now.
The Republicans under both Bush Presidents did support a return to the Moon and should do so now using all the cost effective new tools at our disposals and with our strong ISS partners and invitations to new partners such as Indian, Korea, Brazil, and Mexico. Their support of the NASA manned space monopoly is inconsistent with the Republican advertised philosophy of private enterprise and entrepreneurial initiatives and running against the strong tide of well known private entrepreneurs Elon Mush, George Allen, Jeff Bezos, Sergei Brin, among others. It is unclear why the Republicans have not identified these investors as “the smart money” in contrast with the over time and over budget government NASA managed systems which they supposedly decry.
Obama’s upside down priorities for asteroid missions and Mars First missions have damaged our credibility with our closest partners and made them question our judgement and our leadership. This has provided the Chinese with a position from which they can establish their own international leadership by building their own international space station by even as we have discussed dumping the ISS in the Ocean about the same time they finish their first modest station in 2020. The symbolism of one power on the way up and the other on the way down could not be clearer. The substance of US space policy could be one further extending US comprehensive space leadership with the new Presidential leadership space policies that are described above.
President Lyndon Johnson said, ”To be first in Space is to be First.” It was true then and it is more true now. The protection of the Earth, the provision of clean energy and the development of space energy resources offer the world a reprieve from mutual assured environmental destruction from the unbridled growth of the use of fossil fuels and limited terrestrial resources. The logic of wars based on zero-sum games for energy and other material resources can be eliminated by peaceful and collaborative expansion of the Earth- Moon economy and the use of the resources of the inner solar system asteroids. The US public is fed-up with a program of deficits, economic decline, lost employment and indebtedness. It will respond positively to a program of growth that rejects a prospective economic defeat from a race to the bottom international competition with cheap labor working under conditions of economic slavery and thoughtless depletion of scarce resources. A new President from either party can come out swinging with a hopeful and progressive space program that regains the global economic initiative for the US. This must provide for positive collaborations with the other leading global economies in a global win-win on energy supplies, environmental protection, global economic growth, and expansion of the space economy. It is entirely speculative on my part whether Hillary Clinton will see and seize these opportunities or whether a Republican will alternatively do so. I can hope they all campaign with this in mind in 2016.
January 2014 in the To The Stars International Quarterly