What Biden should have the National Space Council do

U.S. Space Force debuts new recruiting ad entitled ‘Make History’ (U.S. Space Force photo)

[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Defense.]

By Peter Garretson
Real Clear Defense

In May, the Biden administration announced that Vice President Kamala Harris would be taking over a revived National Space Council. That is noteworthy news, given the potential reach and impact of the Council. In the previous Administration, the National Space Council, presided over by Vice President Mike Pence and ably administered by Dr. Scott Pace, produced an immense body of work. Nevertheless, it did not exhaust the possibilities, and a lot more remains to be accomplished – something that the Biden White House appears to recognize.

Indeed, kudos are already due to the Administration for maintaining the momentum of America’s space program, keeping intact the NASA-led international Artemis return-to-the-Moon program, preserving the independence of the country’s newest military branch, the Space Force, and imbuing authority into the nation’s top-level coordinating body, the National Space Council.

What will its focus entail? Vice President Harris’ space agenda is expected to include “supporting sustainable development of commercial space activity, advancing peaceful norms and responsible behaviors in space, achieving peaceful exploration objectives with our allies and partners.” That’s doubtless an important list, but the White House has the opportunity to do much more.

Over the next few years, vast possibilities will present themselves for economic growth in space, while Chinese accomplishments in this domain will continually challenge U.S. leadership, Climate change concerns will become more urgent as well, and we will be increasingly aware of the danger of asteroid impacts – and, thus, of the imperative of planetary defense. From my vantage point, here are some of the biggest and highest pay-off ideas available to the Administration in the near future.

First off, the United States still lacks a crucial ingredient in its approach to space – a “North Star Vision” that coordinates the civil, national security, and commercial aspects of American activity. Late in its tenure, the last Administration released a strategy document that got many of the basics for such an approach right. However, it was short on specifics and lacked the necessary timelines to truly mobilize the nation’s efforts. Yet, that sort of specificity exists in resources such as the Space Force’s “State of the Space Industrial Base 2020” report and the Atlantic Council’s 30-year strategy. These ideas need to be discussed with Congress to secure a bipartisan commitment to a way forward in space. Once one exists, the White House will need to codify it via Executive Order, so all the relevant agencies – from NASA to the Pentagon – understand their roles in this “whole of government” enterprise.

Second, the National Space Council still has a bit of unfinished business.  The last two administrations each took positive steps toward establishing a durable homeland defense against asteroids. However, the National Space Council needs to move from the theoretical to the practical and delineate roles and missions for asteroid mitigation, giving operational planning and control responsibilities to USSPACECOM and outlining the responsibilities assigned to the U.S. Space Force and other agencies.

The third major missing component is to mobilize the space industrial base to compete with China’s growing efforts to dominate space. Such an effort should include the development of Space Solar Power satellites, a renewable energy system that could actually solve climate change and aid Lunar resource extraction and in-space manufacturing. Also needed is top-level direction from the White House tasking the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, NASA, Department of Commerce, Department of State, and relevant regulatory bodies in creating the proper ecosystem for such projects to flourish.

The fourth component of an American vision for space should be to lay the groundwork for an in-space industrial revolution. Although the last National Space Council wisely directed NASA to lead a team of industry and international partners on the use of Lunar resources, it failed to give the agency specific production targets or practical guidance on how to do so. It should. Simultaneously, the Council can incentivize the creation of in-space industrial infrastructure through new programs to purchase Lunar Power, Lunar Ice, Lunar landing pads, Lunar internet, and Lunar precision navigation and timing.

The Council should also recommend to the President a list of critical industries such as Lunar mining, propellant depots, space solar power, and in-space manufacturing that deserve a dedicated Space Commodities exchange through which money could be directed to stimulate the space economy. Equally important is for the Council to review and champion two legislative proposals which promise to accelerate an in-space industrial revolution: the Foundation for the Future’s SPACE Corporation Act and Wayne White’s Space Pioneer Act.

Finally, the National Space Council needs to recommend missions and authorities for the Space Force to secure America’s long-term interest in the space domain. We face a danger that the Space Force, still small and embattled, will fail to articulate a bold vision for itself in developing an in-space economy. Here, the Council can help by recommending to the President that he issue a policy directive assigning the missions of defense of commerce, providing safety of navigation, and planetary defense to the Space Force, and following up to codify these in a legislative proposal. Congress, meanwhile, should create a Working Capital Fund to allow the other services a direct voice in Space Force procurement and operating investment and expenses and give the Space Force authority to conduct operations on behalf of other government or commercial entities.

While the Administration’s announced agenda for the National Space Council is important, space is vast – and offers still greater opportunities to meet our stated national and international objectives. With the proper attention and investments, the Council can set an enduring vision, protect the planet, address climate change, spark an industrial revolution, and ensure that the Space Force is postured to protect the burgeoning space economy. The dividends of doing so are nothing short of dramatic and will echo across generations.

Peter Garretson is Senior Fellow for Defense Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC

[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Defense.]


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