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Fact Sheet: Obama’s New White House National Space Policy June 28, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in cooperation, National Space Policy, Obama, private sector.
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President Obama’s new Space Policy document for the White House has just been released!

“In a world where the benefits of space permeate almost every facet of our lives, irresponsible acts in space can have damaging consequences for all of us. As such, all nations have a responsibility to act to preserve the right of all future generations to use and explore space. The United States is committed to addressing the challenges of responsible behavior in space, and commits further to a pledge of cooperation…” – National Space Policy Fact Sheet

Here’s the PDF of the full 18-page policy, and a rundown below of the fact sheet‘s bullet points with my brief commentary:

“Key Elements of the Administration’s National Space Policy

  • The United States remains committed to many long-standing tenets in space activities. The United States recognizes the rights of all nations to access, use, and explore space for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity.

“Benefit of all humanity” is similar to language in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

  • The United States calls on all nations to share its commitment to act responsibly in space to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust. The United States will take steps to improve public awareness of government space activities and enable others to share in the benefits of space through conduct that emphasizes openness and transparency.

Key there is probably ‘mishaps’: disasters in space are obviously expensive, and so the risk getting out of control would be a roadblock to increased access to space (as the risk could become too great for anyone to want to undertake) and in turn, to future private industry (economic) growth.

  • The United States will engage in expanded international cooperation in space activities. The United States will pursue cooperative activities to the greatest extent practicable in areas including: space science and exploration; Earth observations, climate change research, and the sharing of environmental data; disaster mitigation and relief; and space surveillance for debris monitoring and awareness.
  • The United States is committed to a robust and competitive industrial base. In support of its critical domestic aerospace industry, the U.S. government will use commercial space products and services in fulfilling governmental needs, invest in new and advanced technologies and concepts, and use a broad array of partnerships with industry to promote innovation. The U.S. government will actively promote the purchase and use of U.S. commercial space goods and services within international cooperative agreements.

“Actively promote” the purchase of U.S. commercial services internationally. A logical, if significant step.

  • The United States recognizes the need for stability in the space environment. The United States will pursue bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence building measures to encourage responsible actions in space, and 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. In addition, the United States will enhance its space situational awareness capabilities and will cooperate with foreign nations and industry to augment our shared awareness in space.

Arms control “if” it is “equitable, effectively verifiable” and enhances U.S. national security. That’s a big “If” :)

  • The United States will advance a bold new approach to space exploration. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will engage in a program of human and robotic exploration of the solar system, develop new and transformative technologies for more affordable human exploration beyond the Earth, seek partnerships with the private sector to enable commercial spaceflight capabilities for the transport of crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station, and begin human missions to new destinations by 2025.

The 2025 date Obama mentioned in his April speech pops up again, presumably for an asteroid mission. “New destinations”.

  • The United States remains committed to the use of space systems in support of its national and homeland security. The United States will invest in space situational awareness capabilities and launch vehicle technologies; develop the means to assure mission essential functions enabled by space; enhance our ability to identify and characterize threats; and deter, defend, and if necessary, defeat efforts to interfere with or attack U.S. or allied space systems.

Identifying threats/debris comes up repeatedly in this fact sheet; appears to be a tenet of Obama’s planned international cooperation.

  • The United States will fully utilize space systems, and the information and applications derived from those systems, to study, monitor, and support responses to global climate change and natural disasters. The United States will accelerate the development of satellites to observe and study the Earth’s environment, and conduct research programs to study the Earth’s lands, oceans, and atmosphere.

This fact sheet from the White House covers the important points from the full policy document [PDF]—I’m going to have a look at that and see what I can wean from there :)

SpaceX’s First Falcon 9 Flight Successfully Reaches Orbit! June 4, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in private sector, SpaceX.
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In a big step for the prospects of private space, SpaceX‘s first test launch of their Falcon 9 rocket was a success!

With a lot of customers already lined up to use the Falcon 9 (including NASAGoogle Lunar X PRIZE team Astrobotic; and private space base builder Bigelow), getting one to orbit on the first try (versus the fourth try with the Falcon 1) helps quiet a lot of the questions underlying many of these customers’ efforts, particularly NASA’s shift towards relying on private space. A pretty historic milestone, the idea of increased access to space—and the Moon—just got a little bit more ‘when’, and not ‘if’.

Here’s a video of the launch, which includes the always neat on-board-rocket views:

Reactions to Cancellation of Constellation February 3, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in NASA, Obama, private sector, Sen. Bill Nelson, Senate.
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The Obama administration’s cancellation of the Constellation program (and its plan to return to the Moon) has understandably sparked quite a, ah, constellation of reactions and commentary. Here’s a quick look at the spectrum:

First and foremost, and most telling, is what current NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said about the decision:

“The truth is that we were not on a path to get back to the moon’s surface.” –Charles Bolden

That suggests there were far deeper issues at hand than just Ares and various delays, and that Constellation’s future had developed into a black hole. That complicates the efforts of many in Congress (usually from constituencies with many NASA jobs) to fire ‘salvos‘ back and keep the program:

“We’re going to have to get the president to do more for NASA. America’s global leadership in science and technology is at stake if we don’t maintain a more robust space exploration program.” –Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)

“The cancellation of Orion is especially troubling and goes against the recommendations of the Augustine Commission.  The State of Florida has made significant investments to prepare KSC facilities for Orion, and the Space Coast anticipated, invested in, and planned for the commitment to be fulfilled in order to help preserve jobs.” –Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL)

While Congress is clearly not thrilled (unless you’ve got a private spaceport developing in your backyard), private space is happy to take on the mantle:

“President Obama has given NASA a bold and exciting new mission: to once again push the limits in technology and exploration, promote innovation, and foster a vibrant commercial spaceflight sector…This initiative is on par with the government Airmail Act that spurred the growth of early aviation and led to today’s passenger airline industry, which generates billions of dollars annually for the American economy.” –Bretton Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation

All of this, Bolden’s quote in particular, is, I think, neatly bookended by the expression today from a certain lunar authority:

Thank you, Mr. President.” –Buzz Aldrin

Widespread Reports: No Funding for NASA Return to Moon; $6 Billion for Private Space January 27, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in Constellation, NASA, Obama, private sector.
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Ahead of Obama’s 2011 budget proposal in February (which officials have said will be where he reveals his direction for NASA), widespread reports have surfaced confirming that there will not be funding for NASA’s plans to return to the moon, effectively ending any attempt by NASA to establish a lunar base without international or private cooperation.

At the same time, there’s word that Obama has authorized that NASA’s budget actually be increased over the next few years, namely with a $6 billion project to spur the development of commercial rockets (e.g., SpaceX‘s Falcon 9 and Lockheed/Boeing‘s Atlas V and  Delta IV):

“We do believe it is time for American companies to come into this program. The investment in that will be $6 billion over five years. This is serious, serious investment that we believe will reduce that gap [in human spaceflight] from what it would have been with the program of record between shuttle retirement and the Ares I and Orion [capsule] coming on line.”- An unspecified administration official;Obama officials: NASA to get $6 billion for commercial rockets“, Orlando Sentinel

This was foreshadowed back in Obama’s 2008 campaign space plan—where he planned to “amplify NASA’s reach” with the private sector.

With the Ares 1 rocket facing cancellation and Constellation seeing severe delays as a result of that, private space may have managed to land a man on the Moon long before NASA got there, even with full budgeting. So I see this as acknowledgement of that inevitability–and of the economic benefit of taking all those billions and directing them back into the economy (via private space), while effectively accomplishing the same thing.

LCROSS Impact Results–Water Was Found! November 14, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Cabeus, LCROSS, NASA, Polar ice, private sector, water.
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NASA has released the preliminary results from the LCROSS “moon bombing” impact, and the news is that water has indeed been found!

“‘Multiple lines of evidence show water was present in both the high angle vapor plume and the ejecta curtain created by the LCROSS Centaur impact. The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis, but it is safe to say Cabeus holds water.'” –Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist

With mission accomplished, and a big new financial motivator for companies (water) having been confirmed several times over, things are really beginning to heat up for NASA and the private sector (the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, matched by NASA for a $60 million total? Drool…)

NASA’s “Moon Bombing” For Water Ice Tonight—A Quick Explanation October 8, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in LCROSS, Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter, NASA, Obama, private sector, water.
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NASA’s surprisingly controversial “moon bombing” with the LCROSS craft is set for tonight, at 4:30am!

A lot of people (and I mean a lot–Twitter has been on fire , 38 Tweets on it in past ~30 seconds) are wondering why NASA’s doing this, and some are expressing levels of outrage.

A quick explanation: Water ice is important to moon colonies (and beyond—the oxygen and hydrogen can be used to make rocket propellant, which is incredibly expensive to launch off of Earth; and thus, the Moon could be a cost-effective ‘gas station’ for Mars and beyond), and this event tonight is a key study to whether it exists in shadowed craters sensors can’t see into.  (See this great article from Universe Today for more on why water on the Moon is valuable.)

The LCROSS will drop it’s spent Centaur rocket (non-explosive, basically a large piece of metal) into the Cabeus A crater, and the LCROSS itself will follow into the crater, taking readings as it goes (and eventually impacts the same location).

The $79 million spent on the mission could pay itself back for the U.S.—private space development is a rapidly growing industry, one that Obama has suggested could be valuable to an economic turnaround. Companies are already set for a variety of commercial applications (including an extremely promising alternative energy, as explained there by Apollo 17 astronaut/geologist Jack Schmitt) , but the presence of valuable water ice gives them another lucrative motivation.

This will be a historic event—the mainstream-public attention alone has guaranteed that, and the successful discovery of water ice will be yet another spur to an already charging “base race” back to the Moon  (for resources, this time) :)

You can watch the impact live on NASA TV at 4:30am PST (and there’s even a free watching event at OMSI here in Portland, OR.)

New Google Lunar X PRIZE Team–c-base Open Moon! October 2, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in c-base open moon, Germany, Google Lunar X Prize, private sector.
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Hot on the heels of Team Selenokhod, a new German team has entered the Google Lunar X PRIZEc-base Open Moon!

With that badass render of the “c-rove” at the ready, the team has settled on a standard approach after initially having a “rockoon” (rocket-balloon) concept.

Their entry comes not long after news regarding the German government possibly joining the space fray.

Check out c-base Open Moon‘s site for more details (and their nifty array of social media).

Team Selenokhod Joins Google Lunar X PRIZE! September 27, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Google Lunar X Prize, Kosmotras, private sector, property rights, Russia, Selenokhod, Thomas Gangale.
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This past week, a new Google Lunar X PRIZE team was announced—Team Selenokhod, the first Russian team to compete!

Their website has an interesting level of detail from the get-go. They sound seriously committed to post-GLXP commercial enterprises, and they mention their launch company— ISC Kosmotras, using Dnepr rockets.

It’s exciting to have such an advanced team joining the fray (and another nationality). I’ve been reading a book by Thomas Gangale on int’l space law and property rights, and so far I’ve gathered that while nations can’t claim sovereignty, if a private enterprise from their state does, then the parent state is considered somewhat responsible for the private entity and its actions/claims. So, having a serious Russian lunar effort confirmed could mean a lot for Russia’s lunar affairs as a state (and that goes for each team, and its parent nation[s]).

Keep an eye here for updates as Team Selenokhod develops and more teams enter the 20-strong field for the prize…

NM Gov. Bill Richardson To Be Cleared of Federal Probe August 27, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Bill Richardson, Obama, private sector.
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New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a prominent private space advocate and President Obama’s initial choice for Commerce Secretary, will be cleared of the federal probe that derailed his nomination to the Commerce Dept., according to an Associated Press report.

At the time of Richardson’s withdrawal from the commerce appointment in January, Obama said “I look forward to his future service to our country and in my administration.”  Now that he’s finally cleared, Richardson is sure to be appointed somewhere in the near future.

His original Commerce appointment had a space tinge to it: Richardson’s flagship economic project in New Mexico has been Spaceport America.

Obama has voiced support for private space (“Amplify NASA’s reach” with commercial efforts and “unleash the genius of private enterprise to secure the United States’ leadership in space”), and with the Augustine commission‘s recent grim assessment of Constellation’s future, the development of private space could be taking a leading role in American space efforts soon—and Richardson will probably be at the forefront of it:

“Here’s what I want to be sure of … that the Obama administration is pro-commercial space … that the administration is pro-space, pro-government space, pro-commercial space.” -Bill Richardson, when asked about a potential role in the Obama administration last year

Keep a close eye on Richardson, as I’m confident Obama has space-related plans for him; and those plans could have a significant impact on the future of NASA.

A Stimulating Development?: NASA Assigns $50 Million in Stimulus Funds for Commercial Orbital Passenger Service August 10, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in economy, Obama, Paragon, private sector, Space Shuttle, SpaceX.
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In an interesting economic development, NASA said today that $50 million in economic stimulus funds will be going towards developing commercial passenger service to orbit (to replace the retired Space Shuttle and to avoid pricey seats on the Russian Soyuz).

Private company SpaceX won one of two cargo contracts for the ISS back in January, and the Dragon craft they are using is designed to be modifiable to a human-passenger mode. NASA is holding a workshop this Thursday for SpaceX and other interested firms (quoted by the Reuters article as Ball Aerospace, Airborne Systems, Boeing, Tether Applications, Retro Aerospace, Emergent Space Technologies, Davidson Technologies, and Paragon Space Development Corp., many of whom appear specialized for certain systems).

Obama’s campaign space plan had hinted at this in the past—the idea of private U.S. space industry as stimulus. Frontiers do have a way of pushing economies along, so this could to be a road to developments much like the railroad projects of old. Considering the potential, Obama’s campaign plan, and certain past Obama decisions, there could be a lot more of this to come, and soon…