The Take on Space for 2023
By Brendan Curry
February 15, 2023
The global space economy was valued at over $469 billion USD in 2021, up 9% from 2020, according to The Space Foundation. It’s no wonder that organizations wishing to succeed in this economy are so interested in the rules that government policy makers and regulators are setting for the space economy, as well as the commercial opportunities that will come out of government programs and strategies in the year ahead.
NASA remains the entity that most people think of when it comes to space. President Biden’s budget being delivered to Congress on March 9 will be tremendously instructive towards how the nation’s space policy decision makers will focus and direct attention. This not only will entail setting spending priorities but also start setting into stone deadlines and programmatic mile markers. The agency has enjoyed many years of not only a string of fantastic successes across all mission areas but robust funding support from a parade of Administrations and Congresses controlled by both parties. The agency’s most powerful Congressional supporter of NASA, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama has retired from the Senate, but there still remain a number of pro-NASA Members of Congress who have very substantial clout. These include, but are not limited to, House Science, Space and Technology Committee chairman Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), and Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS). On the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) have been long time space supporters.
There are several items on NASA’s “to-do list” this Congress, the most high profile being the continued smooth operation of the International Space Station (ISS). This includes maintaining a full crew compliment of six people from the different partner nations involved with ISS. Additionally, ISS operations are becoming quite adept at handling a routine variety of commercial and non-commercial cargo and crew flights all while conducting research to be applied for future long duration space missions. A central focus of NASA policymakers and mission planners must also make decisions this year with respect to the eventual retirement of the ISS by the end of the decade. Keep in mind, all of this takes place while the ISS partners continue weathering tenuous U.S.-Russian relations due to war in Ukraine as well.
Continued work on the flagship Artemis program need to continue to make progress in order to maintain support for returning humans to the lunar surface. This entails reviewing any and all aspects of the very successful recent uncrewed mission of Artemis I from last year, as preparations for Artemis II continue. The crew for Artemis II will be announced this year as well. Commercial opportunities await stakeholders to work with NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services office for future Artemis and Artemis-related missions. There will be openings for those interested to showcase their ability to furnish to NASA lunar surface power generation, communication systems and technologies and techniques to assist in scientific research on the Moon.
On the space science front, with the almost daily discoveries from the new James Webb Space Telescope and the routine, yet amazing operations conducted by various robotic missions across the solar system, NASA must begin to capitalize on a variety of projects enumerated in the recent Decadal Surveys promulgated by the National Academy of Sciences. These efforts are high profile missions that NASA will very much rely upon industry and international partners. Possible stakeholders should familiarize themselves with these various priority missions and find where and what they can contribute as NASA begins to consider and then develop mission architectures and timelines.
Aside from annual appropriations bills that will be needed to fund U.S. government space activities, House law makers have stated that a NASA authorization bill will be a priority for this Congressional session. This legislation lays out critical policy parameters and program timelines for the agency and its projects. NASA authorization also provides funding guidance that gives insight into Congressional fiscal proclivities. The aforementioned ISS retirement will be a key point of discussion. Also of note will be a debate about the contentious issue of human lunar landers developed commercially for NASA use. A very recent policy development will certainly revolve around NASA’s announced commitment to developing nuclear in-space propulsion for future human space missions in partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This has a called for a demonstration mission in the 2027 timeframe. Both House and Senate leaders have expressed the need to make NASA authorization legislation a priority this 118th Congress.
On the national security space front, one must keep in mind that the high-profile United States Space Force (USSF) is still essentially a “toddler” in human years, as it was created only in December of 2019. USSF has a number of workaday housekeeping items to formalize and routinize itself with, like the other Armed Services, all while conducting 24/7/365 operations for the increasing number of launches, deployment, and operation of spacecraft and monitoring the evermore complicated space environment.
It should be noted that, much like NASA, USSF enjoys broad bipartisan support. 2023 is also the first full year with USSF’s new leader, General B. Chance Saltzman. Recently, General Saltzman enumerated his Lines Of Engagement (LOE), which should be helpful to those interested in engaging USSF. They are 1-Fielding Combat-Ready Forces; 2-Amplifying the Guardian Spirit and 3-Partnering to Win. Much of what is prioritized in the first two LOE’s are mainly achieved with processes and procedures within USSF. Where I see most opportunity is in the third LOE, Partnering to Win. General Saltzman is quite explicit in seeking out, engaging, and cooperating with external stakeholders from other federal agencies, our international friends and allies, academia and of course the entire commercial space industrial base. Recent initiatives by the Space Development Agency (SDA), which now resides in-house at USSF, are prime examples of how USSF wants to continue to move out on space acquisition.
The conflict in Ukraine is certainly a very real-world trial for USSF and will remain so. It should also not be lost on anyone that much like NASA, which had to be nudged by Congress into looking at different and new ways of engaging industry for products and services in a more streamlined and economical manner, the stakeholders in national security space are hearing the same legislative urgings.
For many, the most public symbol of “space” writ-large are rocket launches. They are loud, gorgeous to look upon, technically impressive, and still provoke feelings of inspiration and awe. The global space economy is in the middle of the birthing process for a new generation of launch vehicles coming online to retire older, albeit reliable yet expensive launchers. The Ariane 6, the Vulcan, the H3, the Terran 1, the Starship and the New Glenn to name but a few are inching closer towards operations this year. These new vehicles are to be less expensive to procure and operate as well as more responsive to customer launching needs. With a variety of more options to select and a greater operational tempo, private space entities are now free to explore new and different pathways to doing more in space than before. These launch providers are keen to showcase their respective vehicle’s selling points over other actors in the market place.
Finally, more U.S. states are actively working to get into the space business. Most people identify Florida, Texas, California, Alabama, and Colorado as “the space states.” Traditionally that is true, but as space utilization and space-derived benefits expand, other states want see how they could get a piece of that economic action. States like Pennsylvania and Kentucky are following the example of Washington State in making a seat for themselves at the table. Efforts around leveraging their trumpeted lower costs of doing business, being home to universities that are technically capable, and creating innovative state and local financial and other incentives, are all coming together to lure the space industry to expand to these and other U.S. states – both government space programs and also commercial space initiatives. Companies would be wise to assess where they might base or extend their operations as various aspects of the space economy emerge across the United States, based both on regulation as well as commercial incentives. Many colleges and universities benefit directly from grants from NASA, which can create a cluster investment effect in those geographies. Additionally, USSF efforts to engage academia have already resulted in fourteen universities announcing partnerships with the USSF. States are looking at a variety of economic incentives such as favorable tax incentives and innovative real property devices to lure investment and program placement. Many states are making their Lieutenant Governors their points of contact for the space industry to signal the importance they are placing on the sector, as well as standing up space-centric business development enterprises.
Book a private consultation with Brendan Curry using the link below to learn more about how the U.S. space policy agenda may present opportunities to you and your organization.