Obama Calls for Collaboration in International Space Race
Around the State
If Florida hopes to hold onto space jobs, it will need to reach beyond U.S. borders, a new Obama administration policy suggests.
The National Space Policy, unveiled Monday, calls for significantly greater international cooperation in a wide range of civilian and national-security programs. Among the NSP's goals and precepts, the United States:
- "Recognizes the rights of all nations to access, use, and explore space for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity."
- "Calls on all nations to share its commitment to act responsibly in space to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions and mistrust."
- "Will engage in expanded international cooperation in space activities, including space science and exploration; Earth observations, climate change research, and the sharing of environmental data; disaster mitigation and relief; and space surveillance for debris monitoring and awareness."
- "Will actively promote the purchase and use of U.S. commercial space goods and services within international cooperative agreements."
- "Will develop new and transformative technologies for more affordable human exploration beyond the Earth, seek partnerships with the private sector to enable commercial spaceflight capabilities for the transport of crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station, and begin human missions to new destinations by 2025."
"No longer are we racing against an adversary; in fact, one of our central goals is to promote peaceful cooperation and collaboration in space, which not only will ward off conflict, but will help to expand our capacity to operate in orbit and beyond," President Barack Obama said Monday.
In keeping with the president's previous pronouncements, NSP's intent is to open participation in U.S. space ventures to allies and other established spacefaring nations, such as China and Russia, and emerging powers including India and Brazil.
"There are so many new space powers trumpeting their successes. We want to make sure spacefaring nations don't cause problems with command and control," an industry source speaking on background told Sunshine State News Monday.
Rising costs of space exploration, as well as increased global competition, make collaboration the obvious option for NASA, said Jim Rendleman, deputy director of the Boulder, Colo.-based Secure World Foundation.
"When there are problems with jamming, radio frequency interference and space debris, we all lose," Rendleman said.
"It's far better to set up verifiable agreements to limit concerns. The global community benefits. Even the security community benefits. If you don't talk, you won't make progress," he said.
Frank DiBello, chairman of Space Florida, said, "Turning to international collaboration is a good thing, as long as we retain key technology areas.
"We're already on a path with the International Space Station for aggressive international outreach to both countries and companies. We want them to use Florida skills, assets and infrastructure," he added.
Citing two examples, DiBello cited micro-gravity research on the ISS and fostering partnerships with U.S. companies.
Still, others worry that sharing technology with nations such as China, North Korea and Iran will jeopardize U.S. security.
Critiquing Obama's earlier call for commercializing space ventures, U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, said at the time:
"At some point the president needs to take responsibility for his own administration’s decision to widen the space gap and cede America’s leadership in space, which is the modern-day military high ground," Posey said.
On Monday, Posey reiterated, "We need to be careful that we do not cede our leadership in space in ways that might put our country’s national security at risk. Ceding our leadership in space would also undermine our economic competitiveness.”
But Rendleman and others say the spiraling costs of space exploration require collaboration.
"The Air Force systems have had 'price problems.' We have grand schemes, but new technology is very expensive. That's the rub," Rendleman said.
By some estimates the U.S. government spends more than $100 billion a year on the full gamut of space endeavors. The Wall Street Journal on Monday said a series of high-level reports and studies has criticized duplication and urged program and agency consolidations.
Cost-savings have already been achieved through commercial launches -- and Florida has played a key role.
SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket from Florida earlier this month, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has claimed his company can launch rockets for $20 million, compared with the $100 million price tag of comparable NASA launches.
Though Florida's Kennedy Space Center is positioned to host future commercial liftoffs, privatized ventures would likely mean a "reduced employment footprint" as Space Shuttle jobs disappear and new technologies require fewer workers.
Departing from previous Bush-era policies that relied largely on all-U.S. solutions, the NSP foresees international ventures including earth-observation satellites and space-based navigation systems once considered off-limits to foreign partnerships, sources said.
Obama's advisers now have opened the door to possible international cooperation on the existing Global Positioning System satellite constellation, which is operated by the Air Force to serve military and commercial users worldwide.
While the administration argues that foreign collaboration -- here and elsewhere -- will help to defray the cost of the U.S. space program, critics say the savings would be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
They say that a smaller employment base at NASA could translate into a national brain drain and a less robust U.S. space program.
Some 15,000 jobs on Florida's Space Coast are estimated to be on the chopping block as the space shuttle is phased out and the Constellation project is de-funded.
But with space becoming increasingly crowded with new players, Rendleman said closer communication and cooperation with foreign countries is both inevitable and desirable.
"It will influence them to do good things," he said.
The Journal reported that some policy analysts speculate the latest policy changes could set the stage for the White House to eventually embrace the concept of a global treaty barring deployment or use of weapons in space.
Space Florida hopes to keep the state in the mix. Last week, it broke ground with NASA on Exploration Park, a multiphased research-and-development facility at the Kennedy Space Center.
Tenants have not yet been announced, but officials say they are open to all comers -- including those from overseas.
"We need to continue to develop assets and skills that reflect what's embodied in the NSP -- being more open, friendly and accessible to international participation," DiBello said.
Contact KenricWard at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.