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Revisiting ‘Non-Interference’ Zones in Outer Space

Few topics in the field of space law have been as widely debated in the recent past as those of space property rights. The interest is understandable, given that talk of commercial lunar development has been going on for years. Of the several companies with plans to land on the Moon within the next year or two, some intend to eventually set up mining operations. Other companies are raising investment for asteroid mining. A number of countries, including the United States, have set up favorable legal regimes for the extraction and ownership of physical resources derived from space. The United States’ apparent pivot back to the Moon has renewed interest in establishing a long-term human presence on the lunar surface.

Despite the body of work analyzing issues such as space property rights and the notion of territorial appropriation, several outstanding questions may require practical experience to be answered, suggesting the fallibility of regulating too far in advance. The answers to others, however, can be teased out in proposals and ideas that might have future applicability. One such question is of interference in surface activities on other worlds. Can a mining activity on an asteroid or a habitat on the Moon, for example, be protected from interruption or intrusion by a competitor? How might a company ensure that it will have unfettered access to the surface location upon which it has placed hardware, or the resources which may lie within? These are critical concerns for business certainty and investor confidence, as well as continued safety of operations.It may be that many, if not all, of these plans fail to come to fruition in the timelines currently envisioned. Challenging technical, economic, and business hurdles will need to be overcome before commercial space mining or Moon bases begin in earnest. Nonetheless, these proposals are effective catalysts for the establishment of an enabling legal and regulatory environment. Indeed, it seems that policy and regulation for commercial operations on other worlds are outpacing the technologies and activities they intend to oversee.

Established space law does not help the issue. Article II of the Outer Space Treaty prohibits territorial appropriation in outer space by claims of sovereignty or means of occupation. A country cannot simply declare that a plot of land on the Moon or an asteroid is theirs in order to keep others out. By the treaty, a company has no legal right to a location in space, even if it has stationed permanent equipment there. Without a current legal foundation for non-interference in space operations, a solution to emergent issues will need to evolve through state practice and norms of behavior.

One such possible practice may be the concept of a “non-interference zone,” an area around a spacecraft or surface facility in which others may not enter or conduct their own activities. It’s an idea that’s been floated in the United States before, as a part of licensing requirements for operating a non-governmental spacecraft. Nothing about it, as proposed, overtly violates the Outer Space Treaty. Now, with commercial surface activities on the Moon seemingly imminent and the government close to reforming the regulatory regime to enable it, the non-interference zone is a concept that will likely come up again.

This brief essay explores the non-interference zone idea to frame continuing discussions on the topic. As background, it looks at the history of the concept and offers considerations for its implementation—if it is to be implemented. To that, the essay examines whether current proposals to resolve the regulatory gap for “authorization and continuing supervision” of on-orbit space activities are conducive to these zones and offers thoughts on possible developments in the future.


In late 2013, Bigelow Aerospace submitted a request for a payload review of a proposed lunar habitat by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). Though the company had no immediate plans for a lunar base, it sought to identify any issues that could hinder private development of the Moon. Bigelow asked AST to confirm that no future licenses would be issued that would interfere with the operations of the lunar habitat, seeking the creation of a zone of operation in which other US entities would not be able to enter.

A year after Bigelow’s request, AST issued a reply largely affirming Bigelow’s non-interference zone idea. The letter to Bigelow stated thatThe concept of this non-interference zone has parallels. AST’s licenses already stipulate that payloads not destined for rendezvous with the International Space Station may not enter a 200 kilometer “safety zone” that surrounds the station. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) allocates orbital slots in geostationary orbit to minimize frequency interference by satellites. While operators of space objects are not, by the Outer Space Treaty, required to abide by ITU’s slot allocations, or foreign governments with the space station’s safety zone, they do so in good faith to minimize risks of collision, frequency interference, and diplomatic incidents. Licensing regimes for non-governmental spacecraft have codified adherence to these non-interference zones as requirements, establishing what amounts to de facto rights to locations in space.

[w]e recognize the private sector’s need to protect its assets and personnel on the Moon or on other celestial bodies. Supporting non-interference for private sector operations will enhance safety and only add to the long history of preserving ownership interests in hardware and equipment. Per Congressional guidance, we intend to leverage the FAA’s existing launch licensing authority to encourage private sector investments in space systems by ensuring that commercial activities can be conducted on a non-interference basis.

In its fiscal year 2016 transportation, housing, and urban development appropriations bill, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations also endorsed the idea, writing in page 21 of its report that,

[t]he Committee applauds actions taken by the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation confirming the FAA’s willingness to leverage its existing launch licensing authority to encourage private sector investment in lunar systems that will work in tandem with SLS and Orion, by ensuring that commercial activities can be conducted on a non-interference basis. The Committee urges the FAA to continue to add details, such as specified zones of exclusive operation on the lunar surface.

Issues of implementation

While straightforward as a concept, the non-interference zone becomes more far more complicated in implementation. The wide variety of objects and possible operations in space suggests that non-interference zones would require significant flexibility instead of being a “one-size-fits-all” standard. The proper scope of non-interference, both in physical space and acceptable activities, would likely differ from space resource to space resource and based on potential conflicting uses and users of a location. The characteristics of a zone—its size and protections offered—would be shaped by several environmental and operational factors that would need to be taken into consideration when issuing a license.

For example, the horizon on the Moon is less than 2.5 kilometers away, while the horizon on a small asteroid may be merely dozens of meters. The likelihood that an activity would interfere with another operation beyond a horizon would be small, suggesting that a non-interference zone surrounding an object would be relative to the size of the body on which its located.

However, depending on the characteristics of the location and the activities taking place on it, interference beyond the horizon may be possible. Dust and debris kicked up from the lunar regolith during excavation may fall a considerable distance from the mining activity, perhaps past the horizon. Perturbances to a small asteroid during mining on one side may affect activities on the other. There is no simple way to reconcile these challenges. Moreover, certain locations are more “valuable” than others; the lunar south pole, for example, contains significant and concentrated water-ice deposits. It will be difficult to protect an object at the pole without establishing de facto claim of rights for its operator on the entirety of the location’s vital resources.

As thought experiments alone, these are complicated issues; as questions that require answers if non-interference zones are to be realized as part of the regulatory regime, they become even more important and troublesome. There are, of course, methods by which they may begin to be tackled. For example, in its endorsement of the non-interference zone concept, AST’s advisory committee, the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, suggested that a variety of tools, such as probabilistic risk analysis, could be used as a dynamic approach for establishing reasonable zones of non-interference. However, it is likely that these zones would need to be determined on a case-by-case basis, at least in the early years.

Meanwhile, the scope and scale of missions would need to come into consideration. Early missions to the Moon or asteroids are likely to be conducted with small, simple robotic landers or rovers. Space mining or lunar development plans will unfold slowly, with years between the identification of targets, in-situ prospecting, and actual operations. Likewise, creation of a lunar base will take place over a significant span of time, probably beginning with robotic site planning, excavation, and construction before any direct human involvement. While it is surely possible that some level of “interference” could occur between operators during these early stages, it is difficult to qualify all interference as “harmful.” For example, would the operation of two resource-prospecting lunar rovers scouting mining sites at the same location really risk meaningful damage or interruptions in all but the most extreme circumstances, such as a collision? Would the transit of a rover through a static lunar base’s non-interference zone pose a real threat to that base’s operation, except in instances of gross negligence? What “phase” of an activity demarcates its need for more stringent protection in the form of a larger or more restrictive non-interference zone?

This poses its own challenges. Writing at length about how agencies such as FAA establish new regulatory and licensing mechanisms, Laura Montgomery, former manager of the Space Law Branch in the FAA’s Office of the Chief Council, noted that the regime “will evolve over time, but each phase will possess its own burdens.”

When regulating on a case-by-case basis, an agency that seeks to provide the industry some flexibility will try to avoid imposing the same requirements on everyone regardless of their circumstances. However, fairness and the law require that they treat operators doing similar things in the same way. They also require transparency in the administration of a regulatory regime, so operators will need and want to know what precedents have been created by an agency’s treatment of other operators like them. All these good, well-intentioned concerns slow the review process down.

Over time, the regime would mature. As operations evolve and the agency gains experience with activities involved in non-interference zones, it could,

issue regulations that it could apply generally. At the same time, however, they would set those requirements into regulations that would take years to change through rulemaking. If a private operator wanted to do something other than what a regulation required, the operator would have to prove that it qualified for a waiver. This is also a time-consuming process.

As Montgomery argues, regulating new activities in space on a case-to-case basis is a burdensome and time-consuming process, which is itself unconducive to business certainty. However, “[i]f the agency attempted to set standards for activities that had not yet happened, those standards would likely fail to account for lots of variables and unduly constrict what an operator could do.”

The broader context

The non-interference zone idea and its issues of implementation are threads in two larger stories of the United States’ evolving commercial space regulatory regime. The first is expanding that regime to encompass “non-traditional” space activities that fall outside the scope of launch and reentry, remote sensing, and telecommunications licensing. (See: “Seeking regulatory certainty for new space applications,” The Space Review, December 4, 2017.)

While AST’s letter to Bigelow endorsed the non-interference zone, it also noted that the agency did not have the necessary authority to implement it. In particular, the letter highlighted the Department of State’s concern that the commercial space regulatory regime was not equipped to enable the United States’ government to fulfill its Outer Space Treaty obligation of “authorization and continuing supervision” for activities on the Moon and other celestial bodies. To that, AST noted that it was,

committed to working within the federal government to put in place the necessary framework to support such activities and provide Bigelow with the security it seeks to conduct peaceful commercial operations on the lunar surface without fear of harmful interference by other AST licensees.

In the time since Bigelow’s payload review, policymakers have taken steps toward providing a regulatory agency the authority to authorize and supervise non-traditional space activities. One proposal, the “Mission Authorization/enhanced payload review” process offered by the Obama administration and written into legislative language in Rep. James Bridenstine’s “American Space Renaissance Act,” expands AST’s payload review to include licensing commercial on-orbit activities. The other, written into the “American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act,”(ASCFEA) gives the authority to license on-orbit activities to the Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce (OSC).

These two bills take starkly different approaches on how streamlined and permissive the regulatory environment for commercial spaceflight should be—the other story into which the non-interference zone fits. The ASCFEA is designed as a distinctly and deliberately “lighter” regulatory regime than that in the American Space Renaissance Act, which in turn is modeled off existing practices. ASCFEA’s model seeks to minimize government regulation and oversight of commercial space activities, so as to lessen the burden on commercial operators. Considering Montgomery’s review of burden and challenges posed by the rulemaking process, the impact of these different approaches on the future of the non-interference concept could be significant.

Enabling legislation(?)

To that, what do these pieces of legislation do?

Bridenstine’s bill implicitly endorses the non-interference zone. In the Mission Authorization/enhanced payload review process, approval of a license can be conditioned on a payload’s deployment not resulting “in harmful interference with approved and operating payloads and associated activities.” Presumably, if this regime is instituted, AST would proceed through the aforementioned rulemaking process to define the scope and characteristics of what “harmful interference” entails, effectively establishing non-interference zones around “operating payloads” and their “associated activities.”

Conversely, the authorization and supervision regime in ASCFEA presumes approval of a certificate application without condition. This is unless the Secretary of Commerce, determines, with clear and convincing evidence, that the proposed operation of a space object under an application for certification under this chapter is a violation of an international obligation of the United States pertaining to a nongovernmental entity of the United States under the Outer Space Treaty.

If the Secretary does make this determination, they may “condition the proposed operation covered by the certification only to the extent necessary to prevent a violation of such international obligation.” However, the bill stipulates that the

“Federal Government shall interpret and fulfill its international obligations under the Outer Space Treaty in a manner that minimizes regulations and limitations on the freedom of United States nongovernmental entities to explore and use space.” Moreover, the Secretary of Commerce may not “deny an application for a certification under this section in order to protect an existing certification holder from competition.”

Toward the future

As evidenced by its language, the ASCFEA is not nearly as receptive to the notion of non-interference zones as the American Space Renaissance Act. Indeed, at face value, it appears to prohibit or at least significantly curtail their establishment. Consider that a non-interference zone would likely be a condition placed on an approved certificate: for example, “you may carry out this operation, so long as you remain X meters away from operator Y” or “you may carry out this operation, but you may not carry it out at location X.” The language of the ASCFEA is relatively clear in minimizing limitations such as this, as well as sharply restricting when conditions may be placed. Of course, implementation will come down to how the Department of Commerce interprets and executes the language in statute. It is conceivable—indeed, probable—that a regulatory or legal expert more astute than this author will find a justifiable argument for how a non-interference zone, or something similar, would be possible within the bounds of ASCFEA’s provisions.

As of today, only ASCFEA is up for consideration and potential adoption, as the American Space Renaissance Act has not been reintroduced in the current Congress. ASCFEA passed favorably out of the House of Representative’s space subcommittee in June of 2017, though it has not yet been taken up for a vote on the House floor nor does it have a companion Senate bill.

And so, the idea of a non-interference zone remains simply that, with several outstanding questions still to be answered. Yet, as noted by Mike Gold, who at the time of Bigelow’s proposal was working as the company’s head of DC affairs, “[t]his is the beginning of a process, not the end… this response represents a first step by the AST to use what authority it has to create a safe and attractive environment for commercial lunar development. The first step is always the most challenging…”

As seen, the future of the non-interference zone will depend on the regulatory regime that is ultimately instituted in the United States. It will be informed and shaped by the practice of operating on the surface of other worlds. Its many outstanding questions simply reflect the challenge of regulating—or thinking about regulating—too far in advance. However, as noted at the beginning of this piece, proposals and ideas such as the non-interference zone may have future applicability and can shape thought and discussion for when the time is right to reconsider them.

To that, though this essay focused particularly on issues and context of implementation, there is much more to be said of the non-interference zone idea. For example, it could, if implemented, serve as a framework to minimize interference between international operations on other worlds. It is premature at this stage to delve deeper into the idea, though others have lent their thoughts.

Whatever the future may hold for the idea, it will surely come up again in discussions of how to protect business and investment on other worlds. Considering the progress being made in the development of ever-more ambitious commercial capabilities and plans, those discussions may not be too far away.

Reorganizing National Security Space for the “Contested, Congested, and Competitive” Domain


Outer space is today a critical domain for the United States’ military. Across all levels of operations, from the strategic to the tactical, national security space assets support the American warfighting effort. They fulfill functions that include, but are not limited to, communications; Earth imaging; missile warning; positioning, navigation, and timing; and intelligence information. The United States’ military has become reliant upon these space-enabled functions for its global power projection and rapidity and unity of effort.

Recognizing the utility of these systems and cognizant of the United States’ military’s dependence on them, near-peer adversaries are investing significantly in counter- and anti-space weapons and capabilities, including jammers, “spoofers,” and kinetic hit-to-kill missiles, that can effectively deny the United States use of its space assets. Foreign counter-space capabilities, particularly China’s and Russia’s, are becoming progressively more sophisticated and capable and fit into their “anti-access/area denial” doctrines.[1] No longer a “sanctuary,” outer space is now perceived by senior DOD leadership as a future theater of war and as “contested, congested, and competitive.”[2],[3]

In anticipation of outer space becoming an active theater of conflict and to counter the threat posed by anti-satellite systems against high-value, high-complexity space assets, DOD leadership has spoken of the need to make the national security space architecture more resilient.[4] Steps proposed to accomplish this include increased purchases of commercial “off-the-shelf” space capabilities, quick acquisition of systems with current-gen technology that satisfy needed functions, and development of satellite constellations that can be easily reconstituted. Leadership has identified DOD’s culture of acquiring complex “pristine” satellites as disadvantageous for the realities faced by current-day space threats; such systems may have been advantageous when outer space was relatively stable and non-contested, but their vulnerability to attack and destruction poses a liability now that outer space is replete with threats.[5]

Despite DOD’s recognition of the need for more resilient space architecture, serious challenges, particularly in acquisition and fragmentation of oversight and management, continue to plague its space force.[6] Decades of studies, commissions, and reports have identified persistent DOD resistance to changes in space acquisition approaches and fragmented acquisition responsibilities and redundant oversight bureaucracy.[7] While these challenges are symptomatic of broader issues in DOD systems acquisition practices and organization, their adverse impact is especially magnified in space programs. Because of delays in acquisition of space technologies, deployed space systems are frequently over-budget and obsolete by the time they are fielded.[8] Until the organizational arrangements that contribute to space acquisition inefficiencies are resolved, the DOD will continue to face challenges in adjusting its space force to meet the threats of today.

Cognizant of these issues, the DOD and Congress have undertaken significant reorganization of the national security space acquisition, oversight, and management structure over the last few years. Steps include establishing a “Principal Defense Space Advisor” responsible for unifying stakeholders in the space enterprise and serving as the focal advocate for DOD space issues, as well as standing up an Air Force A-11 space office to elevate space issues at Air Force headquarters. However, government auditors and policymakers in Congress have not been convinced that this is enough to resolve longstanding issues in DOD’s space organization. The FY18 NDAA mandates significant restructuring of DOD space acquisition, management, and oversight authorities and structure. While rejecting some proposed solutions, such as extricating DOD’s space responsibilities and management from the Air Force into a newly stood up “Space Corps,” this suggests that resolving these issues is a top legislative priority and commands the attention of leaders in the national security arena.[9]

Considering its growing importance to the United States’ continued military supremacy, a review and analysis of the topic is warranted. This paper explores the issues of fragmented DOD management, acquisition, and oversight leadership for its space force. It reviews and analyzes recent organizational restructuring and the FY18 NDAA’s proposals. From these, it offers suggestions, recommendations, and comments on the DOD’s management of its space force.

DOD’s Space Force Management

The DOD spends up to $11 billion a year on non-intelligence space-related efforts, 90 percent of which is managed by the Air Force.[10] The Army and Navy own the remaining 10 percent of space systems. DOD space acquisitions, management, and oversight are fragmented across approximately 60 stakeholders throughout the DOD, the Executive Office of the President, the intelligence community, and the civilian community.[11]

Eight organizations have key acquisition management responsibilities. Within the Air Force, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition) serves as the Service Acquisition Executive for Air Force space and non-space acquisitions. The Space and Missile Systems Center is the acquisition center that develops, acquires, fields, and sustains military space systems. Within the Department of the Army, the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command conducts space and missile defense operations while the PEO for Missiles and Space provides guidance for the development and acquisition of Army space systems. Within the Department of the Navy, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition serves as the Navy Acquisition Executive and carries out all navy space acquisitions. The Navy PEO Space Systems acquires, develops, and provides supports for some DOD space systems, while the Office of Naval Research directs science and technology research initiatives that include a space portfolio. Finally, the NRO develops, fields, and operates space programs for the intelligence community and participates in joint acquisitions with the Air Force and Strategic Missile Command.

Eleven organizations have space oversight responsibilities. For the Air Force, oversight is centralized with the Principal DOD Space Advisor (PDSA). The PDSA, formerly the Executive Agent for Space, was established by the Deputy Secretary of Defense in 2015 to unify diffuse and competing voices in defense space programs. The Secretary of the Air Force performs PDSA duties, which include reviewing all space budgets for conformity with national security space policy and giving independent assessments and recommendations to top DOD officials. The Defense Space Council, chaired by the PDSA, serves as the principal advisory forum on all national security space matters. Its purpose is to inform, coordinate, and resolve defense space issues and provide unified strategic guidance for defense space programs. As an advisory body, it has no enforcement authority. 7 organizations within the Office of the Secretary of Defense have oversight responsibilities. USD(AT&L) serves as the OSD focal point in coordination with other OSD stakeholders who have space programs and capabilities. USD(I) exercises planning, policy, and strategic oversight of all intelligence-related space matters. USD(P) formulates national security and defense policy including space policy. DOD CIO provides oversight and drafts policy and guidance for position, navigation, and timing programs. CAPE oversees conduct of Analysis of Alternatives for space programs. The Director of Operational Test and Evaluation provides independent assessments of space program systems to the Secretary of Defense and USD(AT&L). USD©/CFO directs the formulation and execution of DOD’s budgets, including the space budget. Finally, the Office of Management and Budget engages in space program reviews, where it analyzes major defense space programs and suggests changes.

Six DOD organizations are involved in requirement setting for space programs. Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), along with STRATCOM, generates requirements specifying the capabilities needed for the space mission. The Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command is responsible for developing Army space requirements. The Chief of Naval Operations provides requirements for Navy space systems and space-related strategies and operations. The Marine Corps, as primarily an end-user of space systems, is involved in the acquisition process by the Commandant of the Marine Corps generating requirements for the systems the Corps utilizes. STRATCOM, as the primary command supported by defense space capabilities, generates most space mission requirements. JCS is involved reviewing operational requirements, including the effects those requirements will have on joint military-intelligence operations, and validates the requirements through the JCIDS and/or ICCR processes.

Emergent Issues

Because of this fragmentation, there is no single, coordinated structure for defining space requirements within the DOD; several experts have remarked that “no one is in charge for space acquisitions.”[12] Without a strong, central leadership for space systems, long-term planning and architectures for space are done in a mission area-focused manner and not at an enterprise level. Acquisition is coordinated through, but not controlled by, the Secretary of the Air Force. The organizations charged with oversight are not in control of, or able to set the direction and build the overarching strategy for, U.S. space capabilities. Aside from the office of the Secretary of the Air Force, the Air Force Space Command, and the Space and Missile Systems Center, the organizations that shape and govern the focus and acquisition of U.S. space assets are outside the Air Force’s command-and-control structure.[13]

This presents significant challenges for the United States’ military to establish a space architecture that is resilient on the enterprise level. While, in 2011, the DOD and Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a National Security Space Strategy which gave guidance on an integrated path for space capabilities, it did not establish clear lines of authority for space acquisition and architecture management nor delineate architectural priorities. Throughout 2015 and 2016, the Commander of Air Force Space Command, in coordination with the Director of NRO, developed a “Space Enterprise Vision” aimed at coordinating planning for space systems across the DOD’s stakeholders.[14] However, the document is classified at high levels, limiting its visibility for lower-level organizations with acquisition and requirements-setting authorities; questions also exist of the enforceability of the Space Enterprise Vision at levels above the AFSPC.[15] The PDSA’s office planned to conduct DOD-wide architecture planning, but lacks the sufficient resources to carry out the task and authorities to effectively execute large planning decisions at the OSD level.[16]

Due to fragmented leadership, redundant oversight bureaucracy, and difficulty coordinating among numerous and diverse stakeholders, DOD space acquisitions generally take too long. Officials have noted that it can take a minimum of 3 years to develop an acquisition strategy, issue a RFP, conduct source selection, and award a contract – a timeline that doesn’t include system development, testing, and fielding.[17] Oversight entities are reluctant to waive or change acquisition steps and practices out of fear that they will be blamed later.[18]

DOD’s oversight review bureaucracy contributes to acquisition inefficiencies which are especially pronounced for the space force. DOD program managers believe they are not sufficiently empowered to execute their programs and that, because much remains outside their control, cannot be held accountable.[19] Studies by the Defense Science Board and Defense Business Board highlighted the challenge of redundant reviews, noting that the DOD has a “checkers checking checkers” system which contributes to inefficiencies in space system ac1uaition. Acquisition decisions are made in separate “stovepipes”: requirements, acquisition, and budgets. Each of these is a multi-layered, heavily bureaucratic series of oftentimes uncoordinated processes which do not operate on the same timelines, do not utilize common documentation, and often create situations resulting in conflicting decisions.

Because no one person or organization is held accountable for balancing government-wide national security space needs against wants, resolving conflicts and ensuring coordination among the many organizations involved with space acquisitions, and ensuring that resources are directed where they are most needed, most major space programs have experienced significant cost and schedule increases. As inherently joint programs that have a large set of stakeholders, most military space programs have a resulting requirements creep, causing difficulty in gaining consensus. From this, the Analysis of Alternatives process can take years to complete, leading to outdated technologies being fielded and schedule delays. Space programs are typically high dollar, low volume acquisitions, which reinforces a tendency to overload program requirements to satisfy the desires of multiple stakeholders. With too many systems requirements and ever increasing mission assurance expectations, the costs and schedules of these space systems continue to increase.[20]

For instance, program costs for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite program, a protected satellite communications system, had grown 116 percent as of a 2016 GAO review, and its first satellite was launched more than 3.5 years late. For the Space Based Infrared System High (SBIRS High), a missile warning satellite program, costs grew nearly 300 percent and its first satellite launch was delayed roughly 9 years. Contract costs for the Global Positioning System (GPS) ground system, designed to control on-orbit GPS satellites, had more than doubled and the program had experienced a 4-year delay. The delivery of that ground system is now estimated to be delayed another 2 years, for a cumulative 6-year delay.[21]

This too threatens the identified need for a pivot in the national security space system architecture. Requirement creep in satellite systems, caused by diverse stakeholders trying to incorporate their desired and needed capabilities into a single platform, leads to high-cost, high-complexity assets with long development and deployment times. This is antithetical to the resilient space architecture of distributed and rapidly deployable capabilities proposed by DOD space leadership. According to General John Hyten, current commander of STRATCOM and former commander of AFSPC, the Air Force “spends too much money and time developing satellites that make attractive targets.” As a response, STRATCOM will, according to General Hyten, drive space system requirements for simpler, more easily acquired and deployed systems, and “as a combatant commander, I won’t support the development any further of large, big, fat, juicy targets. I won’t support that.”[22]

Organizational Reform, Past and Present

Past studies and reports recommended several ways to improve leadership and decision-making authority in the defense space community. However, DOD has not adopted many of the recommendations, and the GAO suggested that it was too early to tell whether recent changes would be effective. Nonetheless, several organizational changes have occurred over the past two decades. In response to the 2001 Space Commission, the Secretary of the Air Force was designated the DOD Executive Agent for Space and given milestone decision authority for space programs. However, the EA for Space was not given control of budget and its role as a milestone decision authority was rescinded in 2005, limiting its ability to coordinate space activities. In 2004, the Undersecretary of the Air Force established the National Security Space Office (NSSO) to assist in integrating space activities, combining functions of the National Security Space Architect – which was responsible for developing architectures across the range of mission areas for DOD and the intelligence community – and the National Security Space Integration directorate. The NSSO was disestablished in 2010, when the Defense Space Council was created to serve as the principal advisory forum for all defense space matters. Without enforcement authority, though, it has mainly served and advisory and consensus-building role.

The more recent organizational change was the 2015 establishment of the Principal DOD Space Advisor, a re-designation of the Executive Agent for Space role. PDSA officials believe that the move to the PDSA would consolidate leadership in space and address the issue of fragmented leadership responsibilities. The role includes greater authority than the EA for Space role in that it has the ability to voice opinions to the Deputy’s Management Action Group. However, the GAO raised issues with the position, noting that the DMAG primarily addresses issues on an ad-hoc basis and that most decisions involving investment are done on a “piecemeal” basis within the acquisition, requirements, and budget process. Many DOD officials and experts expressed skepticism of the role, stating that PDSA is merely a cosmetic change.[23]  Meanwhile, in June 2017, the Air Force stood up a Deputy Chief of Staff for Space Operations in Air Force headquarters as an effort to integrate and elevate space operations in the Air Force. The A-11 would be the advocate for space operations and requirements in Air Force Headquarters and integrate the Air Force’s space force in areas such as training and requirements development.[24]

However, in response to persistent issues of fragmentation in the DOD’s space leadership structure, significant reorganization was included in the 2018 NDAA. Describing the changes, Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn), respectively the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, noted that “[n]o single official could be held accountable for the success or the failure of the space enterprise. Too many bureaucrats are empowered to say ‘no’ when it comes to defending our assets in space and too few are empowered to say ‘yes,’.”[25] The 2018 NDAA provides the Commander of Air Force Space Command with the sole authority to organize, train, and equip personnel and operations of the Air Force’s space forces, and serve as the acquisition executive for all defense space acquisitions “answerable only to the Secretary of the Air Force, who will answer to Congress.”[26] It terminates the office and position of the Principal Department of Defense Space Advisor, characterizing the office as “burdensome and inefficient bureaucracy,” and transfers its duties of managing Major Force Program 12 to a single official, who cannot be the Secretary of the Air Force, selected by the Deputy Secretary of Defense.[27] It will also terminate the Defense Space Council and disestablish the Air Force A-11, which the NDAA conference report described as a “hastily developed half-measure instituted by the Air Force, which at best only added a box on the organizational chart.”[28]

The FY18 NDAA also directs the Deputy Secretary of Defense to hire a federally funded research-and-development corporation to provide Congress with a “roadmap to establish a separate military department responsible for national security space activities of the DOD.” The FFRDC cannot be affiliated with the Air Force. Some perceive this as a continuing commitment by policymakers to eventually establish a “Space Corps,” a proposal issued by Chairman Rogers which did not make it into the conferenced NDAA.[29] According to Rogers at the Reagan National Defense Forum in late 2017, the idea of a space corps will be revisited in the 2019 NDAA and that “it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable.”[30]

The “Space Corps”

In the space corps proposal, the AFSPC would become a separate service while still reporting to the Secretary of the Air Force, akin to the Marine Corps’ arrangement. While it would not become its own department with its own secretary, it would be led by its own chief who would sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff with a six-year term. This position would be equal to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and would answer to the Secretary of the Air Force. It would also set up a U.S. Space Command that would be a sub-unified command under U.S. strategic command to help improve the integration of space operations in warfighting. The space corps would be responsible for the DOD’s space force acquisition, management, and oversight[31] According to Chairman Rogers, the size and scope of the space corps would be left to leaders in the Pentagon, who would describe how big it would be and what the bureaucracy would look like.[32]

However, Air Force officials issued significant pushback to the proposal in the run up to NDAA conferencing. According to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, “The Pentagon is complicated enough… [t]his will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart, and cost more money. And if I had more money, I would put it into lethality, not bureaucracy….I don’t need another chief of staff and another six deputy chiefs of staff.”[33] Other leaders focused on the downsides of separating the space force when the DOD should be focused on integrating space across the joint forces. In the words of Air Force Chief of Space Gen. David Goldfein, “If you’re saying the word ‘separate’ and ‘space’ in the same sentence, you’re moving in the wrong direction… [t]he secretary and I are focused how do we integrate space.”[34] Retired Gen. Robert Kehler, former commander of STRATCOM, agreed, “We ought to think about space the way we do about submarines, not the Marines,” noting the submarine force is somewhat of separate, special force that is still part of the Navy.[35]

In an analysis of the space corps proposal, the GAO noted that space would be accorded the greatest amount of visibility and attention and that the organizational change would be very difficult to undo, allowing for its procedures to effectively evolve. However, the GAO also noted that the creation of a space corps would require increased budget to stand up, a challenge in the limited fiscal environment. It would strongly disrupt DOD’s space organizational structure, roles, and responsibilities in the short term.[36]

Analysis and Recommendations

Regardless of the specifics of reorganization within the DOD’s acquisition, management, and oversight of national security space assets, it is imperative that steps be taken to reduce fragmentation and streamline acquisition authorities. Despite differences in opinion about which approach should be pursued, it is an encouraging sign that the Congress and senior Pentagon leadership have recognized this need and appear committed to executing upon it. Preparing the DOD to wage conflict in space by resolving acquisition challenges that currently burden the space force and which lead to “pristine” high-cost, high-complexity systems with long development times is critical to defend against peer-adversary threats and competition in the space domain.

The reorganization actions taken by the 2018 NDAA, coupled with other actions taken within the Pentagon, appear to be positive first steps. Designating AFSPC as the sole authority to organize, train, and equip and to serve as the acquisition authority for all Air Force space systems centralizes and streamlines space system acquisitions within the Air Force, which is the predominate user of national security space systems. Considering that AFSPC promulgated the Space Enterprise Vision and is a lead Air Force organization for setting requirements, centralizing acquisition authority and decision-making with it should be a positive step toward enabling a more resilient space architecture through different systems approaches.

In early December, the DOD designated the commander of AFSPC, currently Gen. Jay Raymond, to become the Joint Force Space Component Commander, taking operational responsibility for the employment of all joint space forces. This does not change AFSPC’s mission, but increases integration with other STRATCOM operational component commanders and elevates the operational level of command and control from a three to a four-star commander. The restructure is intended to build a more coherent organizational structure enabling cleaner operational authority over space assets.[37] While the restructure officially reorganized joint space forces beneath STRATCOM, it effectively elevates the space mission to co-equal status with STRATCOM’s other terrestrial missions.[38]

Between this operational elevation of AFSPC’s commander and the centralized acquisition authorities granted by the FY18 NDAA, closer coordination in space system architectures and requirements can be achieved between STRATCOM and AFSPC’s leadership. With AFSPC taking on operational responsibility of all joint space forces, it is better poised to understand and recognize critical enterprise-level capability needs and issue requirements for those, instead of a diversity of mission-focused stakeholders seeking input into the requirements process.

Of course, other challenges are not addressed by the NDAA’s reorganization. There is no impact on any other organization other than the Air Force, which is not enough to change the entire space force landscape. Nor does it necessarily minimize the bureaucratic burden         of oversight and requirements setting by organizations and stakeholders outside of the Air Force’s command and control structure. Some have suggested that steps such as granting the Secretary of the Air Force Milestone Decision Authority for space acquisition programs, including RDT&E and procurement, would help processes on the back side of acquisition bring space systems to fruition faster.[39] With AFSPC, as a focal point for acquisition, now answerable to the Secretary of the Air Force under the FY18 NDAA, this would be a positive development. However, bureaucratic inertia from space stakeholders outside of the Air Force may undermine this new reorganization’s effectiveness. Some have suggested eventually establishing a Defense Space Agency, with a USD (Space), for consolidated oversight of military space. This could combine space acquisition functions from all military agencies into one organization, providing greater unity of cross-service military space acquisitions and oversight and provide focused OSD oversight of military space policies and execution. However, this would not necessarily consolidate all national security space activities.

Either way, future changes in the organizational structure may be necessary to achieve streamlining of space system acquisition. However, sufficient time should first be given to allow this current reorganization structure to settle in and for processes to develop, evolve, and refine before reorganization is again attempted. While many experts and leaders in DOD, GAO, and the Congress had skepticism that the PDSA would effectively serve as a coordinating function for DOD’s space stakeholders, it should be noted that its supporters expressed frustration that not enough time was granted for the position to become fully effective.[40] To that end, it would be unwise for the Congress to reattempt to stand up a space corps or otherwise significantly restructure the authorities for acquisition and management of space systems within the DOD through the FY19 NDAA. It should first be seen whether the new AFSPC arrangement, coupled with STRATCOM’s interest in more resilience architecture requirements, can change the way that national security space systems are designed and acquired.

Moreover, as suggested by current DOD leadership in their pushback against the space corps proposal, the Air Force is currently in the process of redefining its space doctrine to meet emerging space threats and challenges, even if it does face persistent acquisition challenges, and is working to integrate space assets into the joint force. To entirely upend the DOD’s space hierarchy and command and control during this period of integration would be detrimental to this doctrinal and integration work. Rather, if a separate service is eventually going to be set up, it should be done so progressively, perhaps emerging out of an eventually stood up Defense Space Agency.

Finally, it is important to note that other areas of reform which are critical for improving DOD space system acquisitions extend beyond organizational challenges and fragmentation in leadership. These include streamlining reviews and delegating more decision-making and budgetary authority to lower levels. Likewise, innovative new contracting mechanisms such as OTAs through offices such as the Office of Responsive Space may serve to achieve the needed resilient space architecture in quicker development cycles and timelines. Organizational reform to resolve longstanding issues in DOD space acquisition may help support these other areas of reform, but will not alone resolve DOD’s acquisition problems.


Reforming the DOD’s space acquisition structure and organization is, and will continue to be, critical for the United States’ military to have a space force capable of countering threats and winning conflict in the future. Positive progress has been taken in the FY18 NDAA toward centralizing acquisition authority with the AFSPC, a central user of national security space systems and primary requirement setter, though more work and further changes are likely needed to be done to streamline the burdensome oversight structure. At any rate, for now, it is promising to see that leaders in the Pentagon and in Congress recognize the vital utility and importance of national security space systems and see this issue as one critical for the continuing security and military supremacy of the United States.

Works Cited

[1] Aaron Bateman, “In outer space, the US is vulnerable to China and Russia,” The Hill, July 20, 2017, http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/defense/342992-in-outer-space-the-us-is-vulnerable-to-china-and-russia

[2] Elbridge Colby, “From Sanctuary to Battlefield,” Center for a New American Security, January 27, 2016, https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/from-sanctuary-to-battlefield-a-framework-for-a-us-defense-and-deterrence-strategy-for-space

[3] Steven Tomaszewski, “How the US Military Is Preparing for Hostile Threats to Its Satellites,” Vice News, May 5, 2015, https://news.vice.com/article/how-the-us-military-is-preparing-for-hostile-threats-to-its-satellites

[4] “Space Domain Mission Assurance: A Resilience Taxonomy,” Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense & Global Security, September 2015, https://fas.org/man/eprint/resilience.pdf

[5] Elbridge Colby, “From Sanctuary to Battlefield.”

[6] “Defense Space Acquisitions: Too Early to Determine if Recent Changes Will Resolve Persistent Fragmentation in Management and Oversight,” Government Accountability Office, July 27, 2016, https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-592R

[7] Cristina Chaplain, “Space Acquisitions: DOD Continues to Face Challenges of Delayed Delivery of Critical Space Capabilities and Fragmented Leadership,” Government Accountability Office, May 17, 2017, https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/684664.pdf

[8] Ibid.

[9] Dee Ann Davis, “Lawmakers Begin Moving Military Space Management Out of the Air Force,” Inside GNSS, November 10, 2017, http://www.insidegnss.com/node/5681

[10] “Defense Space Acquisitions: Too Early to Determine if Recent Changes Will Resolve Persistent Fragmentation in Management and Oversight,” Government Accountability Office

[11] John Venable, “Creating a “Space Corps” Is Not the Solution to U.S. Space Problems,” Heritage Foundation, October 10, 2017, http://www.heritage.org/sites/default/files/2017-10/BG3254_0.pdf

[12] “Defense Space Acquisitions: Too Early to Determine if Recent Changes Will Resolve Persistent Fragmentation in Management and Oversight,” Government Accountability Office

[13] John Venable, “Creating a “Space Corps” Is Not the Solution to U.S. Space Problems”

[14] Colin Clark, “Space Command Readies For War With ‘Space Enterprise Vision’,” Breaking Defense, June 20, 2016, https://breakingdefense.com/2016/06/space-command-readies-for-war-with-space-enterprise-vision/

[15] “Defense Space Acquisitions: Too Early to Determine if Recent Changes Will Resolve Persistent Fragmentation in Management and Oversight,” Government Accountability Office

[16] Ibid.

[17] “Defense Space Acquisitions: Too Early to Determine if Recent Changes Will Resolve Persistent Fragmentation in Management and Oversight,” Government Accountability Office

[18] Cristina Chaplain, “Space Acquisitions: DOD Continues to Face Challenges of Delayed Delivery of Critical Space Capabilities and Fragmented Leadership”

[19] “Best Practices: Better Support of Weapon System Program Managers Needed to Improve Outcomes,” Government Accountability Office, November 30, 2005, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-110

[20] “Defense Space Acquisitions: Too Early to Determine if Recent Changes Will Resolve Persistent Fragmentation in Management and Oversight,” Government Accountability Office

[21] “Space Acquisition: Challenges Facing DOD as it Changes Approaches to Space Acquisitions,” Government Accountability Office, March 9, 2016, https://www.gao.gov/assets/680/675694.pdf

[22] Sandra Erwin, “STRATCOM chief Hyten: ‘I will not support buying big satellites that make juicy targets,’” SpaceNews, November 19, 2017.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Valerie Insinna, “In push to normalize space domain, Air Force adds new three-star position,” Defense News, April 4, 2017, https://www.defensenews.com/digital-show-dailies/space-symposium/2017/04/04/in-push-to-normalize-space-domain-air-force-adds-new-three-star-position/

[25] Stew Magnuson, “Secretary Wilson Mostly Mum on Proposed Air Force Space Program Reorganization,” National Defense Magazine, November 16, 2017, http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2017/11/16/air-force-secretary-sees-positives-in-ndaas-space-sounds-warning-on-sequestration

[26] Marcia Smith, “No Space Corps in Final FY2018 NDAA,” SpacePolicyOnline, November 8, 2017, https://spacepolicyonline.com/news/no-space-corps-in-final-fy2018-ndaa/

[27] Sandra Erwin, “Space reforms coming: 2018 NDAA drops legislative bombshells on U.S. Air Force,” SpaceNews, November 9, 2017, http://spacenews.com/space-reforms-coming-2018-ndaa-drops-legislative-bombshells-on-u-s-air-force/

[28] Dee Ann Davis, “Lawmakers Begin Moving Military Space Management Out of the Air Force,”

[29] Rebecca Kheel, “Why the military’s Space Corps isn’t dead yet,” The Hill, November 19, 2017, http://thehill.com/policy/defense/360958-why-the-militarys-space-corps-isnt-dead-yet

[30] Sandra Erwin, “Congressman Rogers: A space corps is ‘inevitable’,” SpaceNews, December 2, 2017, http://spacenews.com/congressman-rogers-a-space-corps-is-inevitable/

[31] Philip Swarts, “House panel takes first step towards military “Space Corps,” SpaceNews, June 20, 2017, http://spacenews.com/house-panel-takes-first-step-towards-military-space-corps/

[32] Christian Davenport, “Some in Congress are pushing for a ‘Space Corps,’ dedicated to fighting wars in the cosmos,” The Washington Post, September 15, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/09/15/some-in-congress-are-pushing-for-a-space-corps-dedicated-to-fighting-wars-in-the-cosmos/?utm_term=.4f90f9407b54

[33] Sydney Freedberg, Jr, “Space Corps, What Is It Good For? Not Much: Air Force Leaders,” Breaking Defense, June 21, 2017, https://breakingdefense.com/2017/06/space-corps-what-is-it-good-for-not-much-air-force-leaders/

[34] Ibid.

[35] Mike Fabey, “Debate intensifies over Rogers’ Space Corps proposal,” SpaceNews, September 8, 2017, http://spacenews.com/debate-intensifies-over-rogers-space-corps-proposal/

[36] “Defense Space Acquisitions: Too Early to Determine if Recent Changes Will Resolve Persistent Fragmentation in Management and Oversight,” Government Accountability Office

[37] “AFSPC commander becomes JFSCC, joint space forces restructure,” U.S. Strategic Command, December 4, 2017, http://www.stratcom.mil/Media/News/News-Article-View/Article/1386821/afspc-commander-becomes-jfscc-joint-space-forces-restructure/

[38] Sandra Erwin, “Space commander enthusiastic about NDAA reforms,” SpaceNews, December 8, 2017, http://spacenews.com/space-commander-enthusiastic-about-ndaa-reforms/

[39] John Venable, “Creating a “Space Corps” Is Not the Solution to U.S. Space Problems”

[40] “Defense Space Acquisitions: Too Early to Determine if Recent Changes Will Resolve Persistent Fragmentation in Management and Oversight,” Government Accountability Office

National Space Council – NASA Budget Memorandum

NSC NASA Budget Memo

TO:    Donald Trump, President
CC:    Mike Pence, Vice President; Chairman, National Space Council
Scott Pace, Executive Secretary, National Space Council
Mick Mulvaney, Director, Office of Management and Budget
RE:    Scope of Human Spaceflight Program Under Alternative Budget Profiles

For your use as you prepare for the FY19 budget submission, the staff of the National Space Council has produced an analysis on the scope of the human spaceflight program under three alternative funding profiles. This evaluation will inform you of the budget’s impact on opportunities and challenges in the United States’ human spaceflight program, and corresponding policy and political considerations.



Per the FY18 Presidential Budget Request (Fig. 1), NASA’s budget is notionally projected to remain $19 billion, adjusted for inflation, through your Administration’s first term. As with recent fiscal years, Congressional appropriators are likely to marginally mark-up the total enacted budget.

The United States’ human spaceflight portfolio currently involves three active programs: the International Space Station (ISS), Commercial Crew and Cargo (C3) contracts for ISS resupply, and development of a heavy-lift rocket (Space Launch System; SLS) and a multipurpose crew capsule (Orion). The ISS is scheduled for continual use through 2024, with the possibility of extension. Current C3 contracts are expected to last through at least 2024. SLS’ first flight with Orion (Exploration Mission 1; EM-1) is scheduled for no earlier than December 2019.

By mandate in the 2010 National Space Policy and the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act, NASA is pursuing beyond-Earth-orbit human spaceflight. The agency’s roadmap involves cis-lunar exploration throughout the 2020s followed by missions to Martian orbit and surface in the 2030s and 2040s. NASA has proposed a cis-lunar station concept (Deep Space Gateway; DSG) for the 2020s. Per White House direction, the agency has submitted an updated exploration roadmap (“NSC Report”) to NSC staff. The DSG and NSC Report roadmap are currently unfunded and not written into statute authorizing NASA; however, they are included in this evaluation under the presumption of their approval.


As indicated in agency testimony and feedback, NASA’s current budget allows for a cadence of 1 SLS flight per year through the 2020s, beginning with EM-1 in December 2019 or early 2020 and first crewed flight (EM-2) by 2023. Starting with EM-2, each SLS flight will be co-manifested with a component of the DSG; completion of the DSG may require up to 4 SLS flights. Crew may be able to fly on-station at DSG for up to 40 days per mission. DSG will be leveraged as a “staging-point” for missions to Martian orbit and surface in the 2030s and 2040s. Development of capabilities necessary for the Mars campaign, including solar electric propulsion, deep-space habitats, and landing and surface operations technologies, will require funding through the 2020s concurrent with DSG operations. Past 2024, fiscal pressures will make continued ISS operations concurrent with cis-lunar exploration challenging. C3 resupply of the ISS will accordingly be terminated upon ISS decommissioning.

This budget level should be considered the baseline minimum for NASA to achieve its exploration mandate within current projected schedule. It does not afford NASA significant flexibility to conduct robust lunar exploration while pursuing technology development for Mars or to sustain an American presence in low-Earth-orbit following ISS decommissioning. NASA expects international and commercial partners to leverage DSG for the former and commercial industry to independently develop the latter throughout the 2020s. A marginal level of flexibility is afforded for unanticipated difficulties in capability development through the 2020s, though schedule may be affected. Critical knowledge gaps for deep-space human spaceflight will put long-term pressure on the program, as ISS’ limited availability creates significant uncertainty for research prior to conduct of operations.

If pursuing this budget level, your Administration must remain cognizant of the risk of “mission creep” and interface with agency and Congressional leaders to avoid it. As this budget offers only enough resources for NASA to meet its exploration mandate through progression in a phased development roadmap, the agency cannot afford to be diverted from that roadmap. Pursuing ancillary exploration goals, such as lunar exploration, jeopardizes budget prioritization for mid-term technology development. If your Administration wishes to pursue these goals instead, it must make that decision before development begins on Mars-relevant capabilities. Your Administration should proactively work with stakeholders to determine, in the short-term, the future of ISS and potential opportunities for commercial partnership in cis-lunar space. Doing so will allow NASA, potential international partners, and commercial stakeholders to better account for timeline pressures and accordingly prepare capabilities to supplement NASA’s roadmap needs.


The programmatic challenges encountered in an inflation-adjusted stable budget are amplified in a flat budget. It offers little buffer against cost-overruns and schedule slippage, potentially jeopardizing the opportunity for cis-lunar human flight within your first term. NASA will need to prioritize budget between operations and space technology development; this may necessitate a slower cadence of flight, which entails safety risk and flight cost increases, or require delay in the development of critical Mars technologies. To maintain currently projected schedule, NASA may need to divert funds from its scientific or planetary exploration portfolios. Otherwise, it is unlikely that a flat budget will enable human missions to Mars by the current mandate of the 2030s. In this budget scenario, pursuit of lunar exploration goals will likely necessitate cancellation or long-term postponement of the Mars campaign; if your Administration wishes to pursue lunar exploration, it will need to work with Congressional policymakers to change NASA’s statutory authorization.

With a flat budget, NASA will need to significantly expand its leverage of international and commercial sector capabilities and more deeply integrate them into its proposed mission architecture. In doing so, the agency will need to take inventory of core technological competencies and determine which core mission capabilities it is willing to take off the “critical path” of NASA-internal development. While some historical precedent suggests that international and public-private partnerships may offer NASA cost-savings, these partnerships also risk schedule slips, compromises in hardware safety and reliability, and programmatic decision-making outside of NASA’s control. Certain capabilities, particularly if procured from the commercial sector, may not be sustainably available. Your Administration must recognize these tradeoffs if this budget level is to be pursued.

NASA may leverage various options for international and commercial partnership that supplement or replace agency-developed capability. While not the preferred forcing function, this may serve to catalyze more robust partner capabilities. In lieu of a steady SLS cadence to deliver DSG components to cis-lunar space, NASA may procure launch services from one of several commercial heavy-lift rockets currently in development. Doing so may require NASA to significantly scale down the size and weight of DSG. NASA may seek international contribution of critical DSG components instead of developing them itself; however, like ISS’ arrangement, this may create schedule pressure on NASA’s roadmap and require decision-sharing that eliminates NASA’s programmatic autonomy. If your Administration wishes to pursue this budget, it should immediately begin working with State Department personnel to establish dialogue with potential international partners over DSG arrangements.


A scaled NASA budget (e.g. 4% growth a year over your first term) offers the agency considerable flexibility in pursuing exploration goals ancillary to its current roadmap and more certainty in meeting milestones on schedule. It could allow for prolonged operation of ISS, a preferable resolution to current programmatic and research uncertainties. Providing NASA discretionary funds for human spaceflight activities would likewise enable expanded opportunity for partnership with commercial providers and catalytic support for commercial development of low-Earth-orbit and lunar space. This budget scenario increases the likelihood of returning humans to lunar space within your second term, a considerable political win.

As fiscal constraints currently dictate their flight schedule, EM-1 and EM-2 could be moved up should additional budget be provided toward SLS, Orion, and ground support system development and production. In such case, EM-1 may fly before the close of your first term, and EM-2 could fly earlier than the close of your second term. A scaled budget may offer opportunity for additional flights between, or shortly following, EM-1 and EM-2, which would lower flight safety risk and cost. Work on Mars technology development may begin earlier, which could allow for an expedited schedule of deep-space flight.

With a scaled budget, NASA could potentially maintain ISS operation through the 2020s or conduct lunar exploration during the cis-lunar phase of its roadmap; or, depending on the extent of budget increase, both. If NASA opts to maintain ISS through at least 2028, it will afford researchers extra time to resolve technical and biological knowledge gaps about long-term human spaceflight critical for prolonged missions to cis-lunar space and Mars. It will likewise afford commercial industry an anchor to continue economic development of low-Earth-orbit, especially if ISS is more extensively leveraged as a platform for commercial R&D. If NASA pursues lunar exploration, additional funds may be used for scientific surface instruments and payloads, potentially deployed on commercial landers, or conduct experimental in-situ resource prospecting and utilization. Investing in the latter capability would have functional benefit for missions to the Martian surface.

With discretionary funds, NASA could solicit expanded commercial participation in its roadmap while maintaining internal control over “critical path” capabilities. Procurement of low-Earth-orbit commercial space stations for additional research, commercial lunar landers for scientific payload deliver, commercial resource extraction for on-orbit fuel production, and commercial cis-lunar cargo delivery would substantially enhance NASA’s programmatic efforts. The infusion of NASA funding would catalyze commercial capability development, potentially leading to a long-term commercial infrastructure that NASA could sustainably leverage.


The staff concludes that a significant scaling of NASA’s budget over the term(s) of your Administration is necessary for the agency to securely achieve its statutory human exploration goals. However, the staff recognizes that political and fiscal realities likely preclude the availability of additional budget. To ensure available resources are best utilized, we offer the following recommendations:

PROGRAM AND BASELINE BUDGET CONSISTENCY: NASA requires consistency of purpose and certainty of long-term funding to achieve a multi-year human spaceflight program. Budget planning for a cis-lunar and Mars campaign will occur several fiscal years ahead of employment of funds. Unanticipated changes in program or budget will accordingly hamper programmatic progress and schedule. Your Administration should take steps to ensure that proposed NASA budgets and direction remains stable and consistent throughout your term(s).

EXECUTIVE BRANCH ADVOCACY: Inconsistency between Executive Branch and Congressional space policy and budget-setting, particularly over the past two Administrations, has been a source of NASA’s mired progress. Leadership in policy direction for NASA has accordingly shifted away from the Presidency to the Legislative Branch. To ensure that your Administration’s exploration goals are met, the Executive Branch must elevate human spaceflight from parochial Congressional interest to the national policy agenda. This may be achieved through cross-government engagement on space goals and shaping public opinion, in states with both vested space interests and without, through speeches and visiting engagements

LEVERAGING PARTNER COMPETENCIES: The substantial costs and technical challenges involved in beyond-Earth-orbit human spaceflight preclude NASA from achieving ambitious goals alone. The rapid growth of international and commercial competencies and alignment of exploration interests presents good opportunity to supplement NASA’s capabilities. Engagement with commercial and international partners will meanwhile solidify the United States’ space leadership. Your Administration should proactively interact with commercial and international partners and stakeholders to identify areas of shared interest and cooperation. Policy directives should be issued to both NASA and agencies overseeing regulation of the commercial space sector that direct them to take steps fostering continued commercial development of space.

The staff encourages your Administration to continue its enthusiastic interest in and support for space exploration. NASA truly is what “makes America great.”

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