Space Launch Policies and Sytems: A Presentation to SPACEAST 2020

by Dana J. Johnson

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This paper presents an overview of the status of U.S. space launch policies and initiatives dealing with the U.S. space transportation infrastructure and with enhancing economic competitiveness of the U.S. commercial launch industry. It also identifies a number of emerging issues and challenges for the U.S. space community in the future. The United States finds itself facing a number of challenges in the space launch arena that are affecting U.S. space activities both in the short and long terms. These challenges have been shaped by the Challenger loss in 1986 and the demise of the Soviet Union. In addition, U.S. economic competitiveness is challenged by the activities of our European, Russian, and Chinese commercial space competitors. The Bush Administration laid the policy foundation for addressing space transportation problems by enacting a number of policies to improve the space transportation infrastructure and improve commercial competitiveness. In addition, a number of national commissions and advisory groups from 1986 on have all pointed to the critical need to address the fragility of the space launch infrastructure, arguing that a robust space transportation system is key to undertaking any future long-term space programs. This paper argues that it is not the absence of a policy framework nor a lack of technology options that lies at the heart of the problem, but rather, the absence of a broadly accepted, performance-based process that allows for a choice among technology options, and the absence of a mechanism to break the current political-budgetary impasse concerning space launch.

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