US and Space – 2002 Looking into the 21st-Century

20 years ago, what did the experts think was important to do in order to secure US leadership in space in the 21st-century? How have things progressed so far?

This article examine the recommendations from the 2002 Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry.

Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry

Congress established the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry in Section 1092 of the fiscal year (FY) 2001 National Defense

Authorization Act (PL. 106-398). The Commission was established as a Federal Advisory Committee under the Executive Office of the President, National Science and Technology Council. The purpose of the Commission is to “study the issues associated with the future of the U.S. aerospace industry in the global economy, and the industrys future importance to the economic and national security of the United States.” The twelve commissioners, appointed by the President and the Congress, are experts representing the breadth of aerospace issues and stakeholders. The President designated the Honorable Robert S. Walker as Chairman.

The Commission defines the U.S. aerospace sector as the sum of those activities needed to develop, oper-ate, and/or use aerospace capabilities, including the activities of commercial enterprises and govern-ment-from general aviation to space exploration, and from civil transport to national security. The human capital, national infrastructure and research needed to support these activities were also considered to be key elements of the sector.

From November 27, 2001, through November 18, 2002, the Commission held six public meetings, received public testimony from over 60 witnesses, and issued three interim reports outlining its preliminary findings and recommendations. The Commission visited Europe and Asia to meet with leaders from their aerospace sectors and learn about their issues and future plans.

The Commission staff gathered information about the aerospace sector from over one hundred govern-ment, industry, labor, university and non-govern-mental organizations. The Commission also created a website to share information about the Commission with the public. It received over 150,000 inquiries during the life of the Commission.

What did they say and how are we doing?

The following presents the executive summary of the 2002 “Final Report of the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry”, specifically related to Space. Commentary is provided for each section regarding state of the space industry in 2022 versus what the experts felt was important to achieve.

Executive Summary Section on Space

The Commission concludes that the nation will have to be a space-faring nation in order to be the global leader in the 21st century our freedom, mobility, and quality of life will depend on it. America must exploit and explore space to assure national and planetary security, economic benefit and scientific discovery. At the same time, the United States must overcome the obstacles that jeopardize its ability to sustain leadership in space.

Achieve Breakthroughs in Propulsion and Space Power

The ability to access space and travel through the solar system in weeks or months instead of years would help create the imperative to do so.

Propulsion and power are the key technologies to enable this capability. Future progress in these areas will result in new opportunities on Earth and open the solar system to robotic and human exploration and eventual colonization. The nation would benefit from a joint effort by NASA and DoD to reduce significantly the cost and time required to access and travel through space.

Reusable propulsion technologies for launch vehicles are available from SpaceX, Blue Origin, and others. Reusable propulsion has resulted in significant reductions in the cost and time required to access space.

Satellite propulsion technology has made significant advances in areas such as electric propulsion, which has increased the efficiency with which spacecraft can travel through space.


Develop a Next Generation Communication, Navigation, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Capability

The nation needs real-time, global space-based communications, navigation, surveillance and reconnaissance systems for a wide range of applications. These capabilities will provide the military with the ability to move its forces around the world, conduct global precision strike operations, defend the homeland, and provide for planetary defense. The civil and commercial sectors will also benefit from these capabilities for air transportation management, monitoring global climate change, weather forecasting and other applications. The federal government needs a joint civil and military initiative to develop this core infrastructure.

A wide range of commercial and government satellite systems are currently deployed with additional systems in deployment or planned for deployment. Government agencies are increasingly acquiring communications services, Earth observation data, and weather data from commercial organizations.


Revitalize the U.S. Space Launch Infrastructure

NASA and DoD must maintain and modernize their space launch and support infrastructure to bring them up to industry standards. They should implement our recommendations contained in Interim Report #3 concerning federal spaceports, enhanced leasing authority, and utility privatization and “municipalization.” We recommended that DoD and NASA should:

  • Investigate the feasibility of establishing a national spaceport structure at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) under a single management system; and
  • Seek Congressional approval for enhanced leasing authority that allows them to lease real property at fair market value and retain lease proceeds to cover the total costs incurred at KSC and CCAFS; and
  • Privatization of NASA utilities at KSC and CCAFS to overcome the budget burdens associated with capital improvements to outdated infrastructure.

In addition, NASA and DoD need to make the investments necessary for developing and supporting future launch capabilities. NASA should also consider turning over day-to-day management responsibilities for its field centers to the respective state governments, universities, or companies.

There are currently 21 Federal, Private, and FAA licensed Commercial Spaceports in the United States.


Provide Incentives to Commercial Space

Government and the investment community must become more sensitive to commercial opportunities and problems in space. Public space travel may constitute a viable marketplace in the future. It holds the potential for increasing launch demand and improvements in space launch reliability and reusability. Moreover, it could lead to a market that would ultimately support a robust space transportation industry with “airline-like operations.” The government could help encourage this by allowing NASA to fly private citizens on the Space Shuttle.

NASA has made great strides in developing commercial space capabilities. Today, commercial organizations carry cargo and crew to and from the ISS. The ISS has hosted, and has ongoing plans, to support private astronaut missions commercial research projects.


Sustain Commitment to Science and Space

The U.S. government should continue its long-standing commitment to science missions in space and focus on internationally cooperative efforts in the future.


The Commission recommends that the United States create a space imperative. The DoD, NASA, and industry must partner in innovative aerospace technologies, especially in the areas of propulsion and power. These innovations will enhance our national security, provide major spin-offs to our economy, accelerate the exploration of the near and distant universe with both human and robotic missions, and open up new opportunities for public space travel and commercial space endeavors in the 21st century.

Numerous United States government agencies are active in supporting and facilitating innovations and advancing international space leadership. The White House has issued policy directives across a broad range of space related areas.