Transporting a payload into space currently takes years of
lead-time and costs a great deal. Despite those barriers, the unique
nature of space has dictated that some space applications conducted
in, from and through space have become essential to our nation.
Growing dependency on these space-based assets has led U.S. policymakers
not only to support baseline investments in traditional space launch
systems, but also to pursue transformational capabilities to replace
or supplement those assets in a more timely and affordable way.
Some call this Operationally Responsive Space (ORS).
ORS’ potential includes myriad applications of space implicit in
the ability to transport people or payloads to and from space, or
through space to anywhere on the earth within 90 minutes. There
are countless situations that would benefit from the ability to
move personnel and materiel to, from, and through space on short
notice and at relatively low cost. Given the war on terror and the
transition away from state-based actors, such situations are becoming
Advances in the technology of transportation have revolutionized
the way that wars are fought and won before, and will do so again.
The only question is whether the U.S. will be the nation to lead,
and fully benefit from, this revolution.
Today, entrepreneurial U.S. companies are investing significant
private capital to make this space transportation revolution a reality.
They have operated to date largely disconnected from the existing
U.S. government research and development establishment. Early results
are encouraging – in 2004 Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne launched
human beings into suborbital space for a fraction of the time and
money of a traditional aerospace development effort. XCOR’s EZ-Rocket
has demonstrated routine operations (hours between flights in front
of the X Prize Cup airshow crowd) of a reusable rocket-propelled
vehicle. SpaceX has nearly completed development of a wholly new
orbital launch vehicle in less time and cost than a government-led
effort would take. Numerous other companies have the funding and
customers to develop a broad range of new space transportation capabilities.
Of course, the Entrepreneurial Space Transportation industry hasn’t
succeeded yet. But when some of these firms do succeed, the space
access revolution they produce will dramatically benefit U.S. national
security, economic competitiveness, and create a vibrant new aerospace
industrial base and talent pool that will pay off for generations.
Most of these companies are currently focused on commercial applications
for their systems, rather than national security needs. However,
the U.S. government could easily encourage these companies to rapidly
develop capabilities that are equally applicable to military requirements
- in many cases without spending any new money. This “alignment”
of private and public goals offers policymakers the leverage of
the private capital and effort already being invested by this industry.
Some of the ways that the government can ensure that these private
investments generate maximum public benefit are:
- Direct the DOD (and other U.S. Government agencies) to develop
outreach and feedback mechanisms to gain greater insight into
the Entrepreneurial Space Transportation (EST) industry’s capabilities
- Confer with the EST industry to ensure that government technology
research plans will intersect with their probable future needs.
- Spend some minimum fraction of DOD (and other U.S. Government
agencies) space transportation research funding on technologies
that will have broad common utility for the EST industry and the
- Direct DOD (and other U.S. government agencies) to develop
and utilize purchasing and acquisition methods such as prizes,
Other Transactions Authority agreements, and pay for delivery
contracts to stimulate the growth and innovation of the EST industry.
- Publish an annual report to Congress on the progress of U.S.
Government efforts to gain leverage from the private technology
and capability investments of the EST industry.
- Support a regulatory regime that encourages rather than inhibits
the development of commercial human spaceflight - for example
streamlining or removing such barriers to success as ITAR and
- Create a National Space Access Advisory Committee, to be comprised
of leaders of the EST industry and the relevant decision makers
in government, to guide and accelerate these and subsequent federal