Obama’s New Space Policy Peaceful But Guarded

WASHINGTON, DC, June 28, 2010 (ENS) – President Barack Obama today unveiled his new national space policy, which focuses more on international cooperation, peaceful use of space and environmental sustainability than that of the previous administration.

While President Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld established a Pentagon infrastructure that critics feared would lead to the weaponization of space, President Obama today emphasized “peaceful cooperation.”

“Our policy reflects the ways in which our imperatives and our obligations in space have changed in recent decades,” said Obama. “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.”

The Obama administration’s space policy statement opens the way to a potential space weapons control treaty as long as it is in the interest of U.S. national security.

A space-based laser would provide a powerful pulse of energy to destroy missiles in flight. (Image courtesy U.S. Air Force)

“The United States will pursue bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence-building measures to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, space,” the new policy states. “The United States will consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies.”

Maintaining a cutting-edge leadership for the U.S. space program is “central to our security and the security of our allies,” said President Obama, “as spaced-based technology allows us to communicate more effectively, to operate with greater precision and clarity, and to better protect our men and women in uniform.”

Peter Marquez, director of space policy at the White House National Security Council, told reporters today that the new policy is less confrontational than that of the previous administration.

“The arms control language is bipartisan language that appeared in the Reagan policy and George H.W. Bush’s policy and the Clinton policy,” Marquez said during a White House briefing. “So we’re bringing it back to a bipartisan agreed-upon position.”

While opening the door to an era of peaceful use of space, President Obama keeps his guard up.

The secretary of defense is directed to develop “capabilities, plans, and options to deter, defend against, and, if necessary, defeat efforts to interfere with or attack U.S. or allied space systems.”

The defense secretary also must maintain the “capabilities to execute the space support, force enhancement, space control, and force application missions,” the policy states.

The United States will develop and use space nuclear power systems after a nuclear safety analysis conducted by the Secretary of Energy for evaluation by an ad hoc Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel that will evaluate the risks associated with launch and in-space operations. Use of nuclear power will require a license from the secretaries of energy and transportation.

Northern Europe as seen from the International Space Station (Photo courtesy NASA)

The administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, is directed to “set far-reaching exploration milestones.” By 2025, the policy sets the goal of beginning crewed missions beyond the moon, including sending humans to an asteroid. By the mid-2030s, humans are supposed to orbit Mars and return safely to Earth.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said today, “This policy embraces the historical roles of the agency, such as research and development of launch systems, robotic missions to destinations throughout the solar system, and Earth science, including climate change.”

“But it also challenges NASA to embrace new roles and areas of emphasis, such as enhancing use of the International Space Station, identifying and characterizing of near-Earth objects, and eliminating or limiting orbital debris and its danger to spacecraft,” Bolden said.

“In addition,” he said, “we will expand our partnerships with private industry, allowing commercial companies to take a larger role in the exploration of space while NASA pursues those activities the agency is uniquely qualified to do.”

“This policy will enable a vibrant, job-creating, transportation system for taking humans to and from low-Earth orbit, which should significantly contribute to the national economy, benefit all of our nation’s citizens, and enable exploration beyond low-Earth orbit,” Bolden said. “This policy promises to transform human spaceflight for future generations.

“If there’s one really broad theme it is international cooperation, which is woven throughout the new policy and it’s our sort of foundational emphasis for achieving all of our goals in space,” Barry Pavel, senior director for defense policy and strategy for the National Security Council, told reporters.

Environmental concerns are a major part of the new policy. “We are proposing improved observation of the Earth, to gain new insights into our environment and our planet,” said Obama.

Computer generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked (Image courtesy NASA)

“This policy recognizes that as our reliance on satellites and other space-based technologies increases, so too does our responsibility to address challenges such as debris and other hazards,” Obama said.

Since 1957, more than 4,800 space launches have left about 19,000 objects in the low and high orbit around the Earth, including about 900 satellites, according to Nicholas Johnson, NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris.

“Decades of space activity have littered Earth’s orbit with debris; and as the world’s space-faring nations continue to increase activities in space, the chance for a collision increases correspondingly,” the new policy states.

Under the policy, the U.S. will conduct space surveillance for debris monitoring and awareness; missile warning; Earth science and observation; environmental monitoring; satellite communications; geospatial information products and services; disaster mitigation and relief; search and rescue; use of space for maritime domain awareness; and long-term preservation of the space environment for human activity and use.

One of the primary goals of the new policy is to energize competitive domestic industries to participate in global markets and advance the development ofsatellite manufacturing; satellite-based services; space launch; terrestrial applications; and increased entrepreneurship.

“That is why we seek to spur a burgeoning commercial space industry, to rapidly increase our capabilities in space while bolstering America’s competitive edge in the global economy,” said the President.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today, “Nations and organizations are increasingly using space to create wealth and prosperity, monitor the Earth’s environment, maintain peace and security, and explore the mysteries of the furthest unknown reaches of the universe.”

“We will expand our work in the United Nations and with other organizations to address the growing problem of orbital debris and to promote best practices for its sustainable use,” Clinton said.

“We will pursue enhanced cooperative programs with other space-faring nations in space science, human and robotic space exploration, and in the use of Earth observation satellites to support weather forecasting, environmental monitoring, and sustainable development worldwide.”

Click here to read President Barack Obama’s new National Space Policy.

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