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White House Releases Key Elements of Upcoming U.S. National Space Policy

By | June 28, 2010
      [Satellite News 06-28-10] U.S. President Barack Obama’s new National Space Policy (NSP) will contain measures to double the available amount of spectrum for wireless communications over the next 10 years and establish grounds to seek international partnerships for civil space and space situational awareness programs, according to statements and documents released by the administration on June 28.
          The overall goal of the NSP, which supersedes space policy directives issued by President George W. Bush in 2006, is to provide guidance on the use of space for U.S. security, economic, civil and environmental concerns. The new space policy establishes a mandate, which will see revenues from spectrum auctions spent on the U.S. national public safety network and other infrastructure investments and deficit reduction.
          The new policy’s focus on the extension of broadband access, via wireless networks, to rural and underserved areas may positively impact the future of U.S. mobile satellite service providers. The president, who enjoys a close relationship with the Democrat-led U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC), hopes to provide legal support to the FCC’s initiative to reallocate mobile spectrum.  U.S. National Economic Council director Lawrence Summers said the NSP addresses fears that the United States will face a spectrum famine as the use of wireless devices and broadband data services continue to increase at dramatic rates, citing the Obama administration’s estimates that wireless data traffic will rise by between 20 and 45 times between 2009 and 2015.
          “The president’s plan will nearly double the amount of commercial spectrum available to unleash the innovative potential of wireless broadband. It will commit to auctioning 500MHz of federal and commercial spectrum, the target set in the FCC’s proposals for the National Broadband Plan. This initiative will catalyze private sector investment, contribute to economic growth and help to create hundreds of thousands of jobs,” Summers said in a statement.
          In May, the FCC voted unanimously to amend the Wireless Communications Service (WCS) spectrum rules to include mobile broadband uses and allow mobile broadband providers to offer services on a 25MHz band of spectrum. The commission’s action is the first phase of its plan to find 500MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband over the next 10 years as outlined in the agency’s national broadband plan, released in March.
          “The modification to our WCS rules comes at the moment that 4G technologies are ready to be commercially deployed. I am pleased that by taking a fresh look at the WCS rules, we are able to create an environment for innovative, cutting-edge mobile products and services in a spectrum band that has essentially remained fallow for years,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.
          For civil space concerns, the NSP contains language that commits the United States to more partnerships with other governments. Key elements of the NSP’s civil space policies include the United States recognizing the rights of all nations to access, use, and explore space for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity. The NSP expresses the United States’ interest in pursuing cooperative activities for applications in Earth observation, climate change research, and the sharing of environmental data, disaster mitigation and relief and space surveillance for debris monitoring and awareness.
          The NSP also engages NASA to expand programs such as human and robotic exploration of the solar system and affordable human exploration beyond the Earth, as well as to 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 Obama administration has already voiced support for commercial launch companies such as COTS contract winners SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to take on a share of NASA’s future launch developments.
          “We set ambitious goals for NASA: ramping up robotic and human space exploration, with our sights set on Mars and beyond, to improve the capacity of human beings to learn and work safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time.  And this policy recognizes the importance of inspiring a new generation of young people to pursue careers in science and engineering,” Obama said in a statement.
          The White House’s NSP also officially recognizes the need for stability in the space environment, committing the United States to pursue bilateral and multilateral transparency measures to “encourage responsible actions in space,” according to the NSP. The language of the policy mandates that the United States 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.” The administration also will seek cooperative partnership with foreign nations and industries to augment space awareness capabilities.
          Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Senior Scientist Laura Grego said that if the administration’s NSP preview statements accurately reflect the final product, the new policy would represent a return to a more balanced view of civil, commercial and military uses of space; and a greater openness to arms control and cooperative solutions to international space security issues. “From what we’ve heard, the Obama administration has decided to return to policies that were in place during the Carter, Reagan, Bush senior and Clinton years. The National Space Policy of each of those administrations supported the right of all nations to use space peacefully and without interference. And all of those administrations viewed arms control agreements as useful tools to ensure that right.”
          Grego noted that the Obama administration’s NSP is in stark contrast with the Bush administration’s 2006 plan, which “essentially embraced a unilateral approach to space security, which was in keeping with its overall foreign policy. It asserted that the right to use space without interference was a U.S. right, and put strict limits on arms control. By contrast, we expect the Obama administration’s space policy to be open to new arms control agreements and cooperative solutions to security problems. That’s critically important. There is no way we can achieve lasting space security independently. We are going to have to coordinate and cooperate with other space-faring nations. That’s the nature of space.”

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