The United States holds the preeminent global position in space research due to its long-term, steadfast investments in space research and technology development and its strategic partnerships and collaborations. As the United States leads the world in the exploration of the Moon and Mars, maintaining U.S. preeminence in space research is important as the use of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) grows and the development of space enters a new era. This Strategy presents a vision for U.S. leadership in future research and development (R&D) in LEO that will advance science and technology; strengthen U.S. Government collaborations; promote market sustainability; expand international partnerships; engage the public; and support the continued development of the U.S. space workforce.
Innovative public-private collaborations and increased commercial access to LEO have sparked a growing interest in space research and development. The increased potential for rapid discoveries is expanding the commercial market at the same time the International Space Station (ISS) is beginning its phased retirement to be replaced by lower cost commercial alternatives. As a result of this changing landscape, the U.S. Government needs to plan strategically for the post-ISS world especially for the employment of commercial state-of-the-art autonomously-operated and human-occupied outposts.
Opportunities remain in research conducted on government LEO platforms ahead of the upcoming transition. A national approach is needed to realize and institutionalize the scientific, economic, educational, and diplomatic benefits of LEO research platforms for the future.
This Strategy prioritizes the use of LEO for the benefits of humanity. It will also enable a sustained human presence in space. This Strategy outlines five policy objectives and supporting activities in LEO:
- Advance groundbreaking science and technology by conducting transformational R&D and enabling rapid, repeatable science in space;
- Strengthen U.S. Government collaboration and partnerships by encouraging new entrants in R&D through a LEO National Laboratory, promoting data sharing, and prioritizing sustainable access to LEO;
- Promote market opportunities, innovation, and sustainability by adapting non-traditional use cases, enabling equitable access on future platforms, and addressing economic and regulatory barriers to market space-based R&D;
- Expand international cooperation by exploring more opportunities for international collaboration, and implementing human spaceflight safety coordination;
- Stimulate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce development, including by increasing opportunities for people from backgrounds underrepresented in STEM, and building capacity in institutions.
With these objectives and activities, the United States demonstrates its commitment to advancing research in LEO by leveraging the nation’s commercial enterprise to develop the infrastructure needed to grow the space economy. R&D in LEO and beyond will leverage academic, government, and commercial capabilities to sustain U.S. leadership in space.
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