US National Space Policy

Jan 2007 | Comments Off on US National Space Policy

The tone of the NSP is “unilateralist” in terms of the approach

The U.S. National Space Policy (NSP) was authorised by President Bush on August 31, 2006. This NSP establishes an overarching national policy that governs the conduct of U.S. space activities and supersedes the 1996 NSP.

The unclassified ten-page summary of the NSP consists of 13 self-contained sections including the principles, goals, guidelines (both general and specific to national security space, civil space and commercial space), international space cooperation, space nuclear power, radio frequency spectrum, orbital debris, effective export policies and space-related security classification.

The first part of this review focuses on the principles and goals of U.S. 2006 space policy as these provide the overall rationale to the policy. The second part of this review of the 2006 NSP highlights the context of the policy, a comparison with the previous policy, commentaries of the policy by others and some final observations.

Principles of the 2006 NSP

The seven principles of the NSP include:
1. “The U.S. is committed to the exploration and use of outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes and for the benefit of all humanity. “Peaceful purposes” allow the U.S. to undertake defence and intelligent-related activities in pursuit of national interests;

2. The U.S. rejects any claims to sovereignty by any nation over outer space or celestial bodies, . and rejects any limitations on the fundamental right of the U.S. to operate in an acquire data from space;

3. The U.S. will seek to cooperate with other nations in the peaceful use of outer space to extend the benefits of space, enhance space exploration, and to protect and promote freedom around the world;

4. The U.S. considers space systems to have the rights of passage through and operations in space without interference . purposeful interference with its space systems [is] an infringement on its rights;

5. The U.S. considers space capabilities . vital to its national interests. . The U.S. will: preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests;

6. The U.S. will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space. Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the right of the U.S. to conduct research, development, testing, and operations or other activities in space for U.S. national interests; and

7. The U.S. is committed to encouraging and facilitating a growing and entrepreneurial U.S. commercial space sector . to the maximum practical extent, consistent with national security.”

U.S. 2006 NSP Goals

“The fundamental goals of the NSP are to:

* Strengthen the nation’s space leadership and ensure that space capabilities are available in time to further U.S. national security, homeland security, and foreign policy objectives;

* Enable unhindered U.S. operations in and through space to defend our interests there;

* Implement and sustain an innovative human and robotic exploration program with the objective of extending human presence across the solar system;

* Increase the benefits of civil exploration, scientific discovery, and environmental activities;

* Enable a dynamic, globally competitive domestic commercial space sector in order to promote innovation, strengthen U.S. leadership, and protect national, homeland, and economic security;

* Enable a robust science and technology base supporting national security, homeland security, and civil space activities; and

* Encourage international cooperation with foreign nations and/or consortia on space activities that are of mutual benefit and that further the peaceful exploration and use of space, as well as to advance national security, homeland security, and foreign policy objectives.”

The Context of the 2006 NSP

This 2006 NSP completes President Bush’s review of all U.S. space policies since 2003. The other four in the series include:

* U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Policy, April 2003 that provides guidance for, among other things, licensing and operating commercial remote sensing space systems, and foreign access to such systems;

* Vision for Space Exploration, January 2004 that advances scientific, ecurity and economic interests through a robust space exploration program;

* U.S. Space Transportation Policy, December 2004 establishes national policy, guidelines, and implementation actions for space transportation programs; and,

* U.S. Space-based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Policy, December 2004 that establishes guidance and actions for spacebased positioning, navigation and timing programs.

It is evident that such policies are and should be of interest and concern to the geospatial community in general and to precision navigation and coordinates in particular. But, before delving into details, it is also imperative to know what has gone before the NSP to further enhance understanding of the context and background.

Comparisons with the 1996 Policy

The tone of the NSP is “unilateralist” in terms of the approach in regard to access to space and the rejection of new treaties or other limitations on U.S. By comparison, the 1996 policy uses language that is both cooperative and collaborative such as in the words “enhance the security of the U.S. and our allies”. Such a tone is evident in a close reading of the “principles” section of both policies.

In regard to arms control, the 1996 document emphasises a “considering” of arms control whereas the NSP makes it clear that the administration is wary of arms control and views it as a possible threat to American space operations. Such an attitude is probably informed by the preoccupation with national security space issues in the new century. Whereas national security was mentioned in two of the five goals in 1996, the same is mentioned in four of the six goals. In the new policy it is clear that international cooperation and arms control are of lesser priority.

The changing emphasis may also be a reflection of a different environment compared to those kinds of issues facing the U.S. space program in 1996. Hence, it is not surprising that national security in space are high on the agenda given that it is now more troubling than before while civilian use of space is in need of greater direction from the U.S. government.

The NSP includes a new section on access to the frequency spectrum, orbit management and interference protection. For instance, the frequency spectrum is now more crowded than it was a decade ago because of greater civilian use. In defence terms there is a greater demand for access, given that there are now more commercial satellites that compete for the use of the spectrum such as the extremely high frequency Ka-band.

The NSP extends the goals of the 2004 Vision for Space Exploration and NASA’s new focus on exploration. But, space is not the sole goal of the Agency. The 1996 policy was quite explicit and expansive in regards to statements concerning the enhancement of knowledge of the solar system, and fundamental natural and physical sciences. The statements also included issues such as an understanding of global change and the effect of natural and human influences on the environment; human space flight activities; and space technology development in support of U.S. government needs and economic competitiveness.

Curiously, the NSP however omits to mention the International Space Station nor the Space Shuttle which is the current focus of NASA. Furthermore, the new policy lists only two civil areas of cooperation – exploration programs and Earth observation with the omission of other space science opportunities.

In 1996 Earth science and Earth observation is mentioned over 20 times with an entire section devoted to the subject. In contrast the 2006 NSP mentions this subject only six times. Probably this is a reflection of the growing commercial remote sensing field at that time but which has now matured and no longer requires that degree of attention. However, what remains unexplained is the lack of attention to the study of global change in the NSP. Again, this may be because the subject-matter is no longer the passion nor the portfolio of the Vice President’s Office.

The NSP will again be in limbo when a new President is elected in 2009 since there will probably then be another new set of policy objectives.


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