Becoming Spacefaring: America’s Path Forward in Space

VI.    Where to Start to Become Spacefaring and Energy Secure

Politics is how a society establishes priorities and allocates resources to achieve these priorities. While it would be nice if this happened in a logical and amiable manner, this is not how real life works. Emotion and passion establish priorities among many competing issues. Political leaders exercise the public’s passion to elevate some issues onto the warning radar screen of the body politic to become an issue of serious concern warranting attention to resolve. Elected officials then, using their legal and political powers, reallocate resources to address the issue. For the critical issue of America’s now inadequate future energy security, who first should be waving the red flag of warning of a serious national policy issue needing to be addressed? Engineers, as this is why the profession exists—to protect the public.

A.      Engineering societies must take the lead

As previously discussed, White’s Law is expressed generally as:

Energy • Technology → Standard of Living

At the very heart of White’s Law is technology. Technology is the instrument of true progress elevating the standard of living and the instrument of problem resolution when the standard of living is threatened, as it is now by the end of affordable fossil fuels.

The earlier calculations clearly show that the domestic endowment of technically recoverable fossil fuels will be depleted this century. The science and technology needed to build replacement sustainable energy sources exists, so the resolution of this critical issue is not a fundamental scientific research problem but is an engineering challenge. Hence, what is now needed is the detailed engineering work necessary to deploy known science and technology into the specific hardware and software designs and industry that will build the new space-based power industry and the enabling spacefaring logistics infrastructure.

Unlike the 1800s and early 1900s, when engineers like Robert Fulton and Nicholas Roosevelt, John and Washington Roebling, and the Wright Brothers were well known to the public, no prominent engineers have an effective political voice in America at this time. Today, engineering societies speak to the public on matters of national technological importance—or, at least, they should. On the strength of the quantitative data available, America’s engineering societies should be taking on the task of elevating American energy insecurity onto the radar warning screen of the body politic and, through letters, testimony, and presentations, educate the American public and its elected representatives on the seriousness of this issue and its needed solution.

B.      Presidential leadership Is critical

The need for America to become energy secure has existed since the 1970s without any effective presidential political leadership to make this happen. It will not happen without committed presidential leadership. Hence, the commitment for America to become a true human commercial spacefaring nation must start at the very top with a clear presidential policy to have America become energy secure using sustainable space-based power. Obtaining this commitment will be a significant challenge, because of the ignorance of political leaders in recognizing national energy insecurity as an issue needing immediate national political attention. Only the election of a president in 2016 who acknowledges this will make this politically possible for the next eight years. Otherwise this issue will be in conflict with everything promised during the campaign—priorities, funding, and legislation.

C.      With such a new president, the starting point Is policy

As the nation’s chief executive, each president promulgates the execution of the president’s constitutional duties by issuing executive orders. One form of an executive order is a formal statement of national security or foreign policy. These are generally referred to as Presidential Decision Directives, with the subject of each directive being a statement of policy on a particular topic or a tasking to undertake a particular action. If a national security topic believed to be of national significance is not addressed by a Presidential Decision Directive, it is unlikely to warrant much attention by that administration.

With the new presidential administration in 2017, the starting point to address America’s energy insecurity is to establish or revise these four national policies:

  • National Energy Security Policy
    • National Space-Based Power Policy
  • National Space Policy rewritten as the National Spacefaring Policy
    • National Space Transportation Policy rewritten as the National Spacefaring Infrastructure Policy

D.      New national energy security policy

The United States has fought wars and continues to deploy significant military forces overseas, at great human and monetary cost, to protect its oil supplies. Also, it has invested billions, often foolishly, in sustainable energy technologies that lack practical scalability. All of this has been done in the absence of a formal national energy security policy. No president has yet said that the United States should be energy secure or has clearly defined how this is to be accomplished.

A formal policy commitment by the next president to US energy security is necessary to focus the nation’s resources on making the United States energy secure. The primary policy objective should be for America to become energy secure with affordable sustainable energy sources, under its legal control and military protection, to replace fossil fuels by a year established by the president. The president would make clear that the policy is needed to maintain America’s national security, economic prosperity, and standard of living as the era of affordable fossil fuels unavoidably ends.

E.      New national space-based power policy

Subordinate to the National Energy Security Policy would be a new National Space-Based Power Policy. This policy would establish the goal for the United States to replace fossil fuels with reliable and secure space-based power production delivered to America and delivered to US spacefaring enterprises in space by electromagnetic power transmission. The policy would guide the establishment of a new National Space Power Agency to oversee the private sector’s development, construction, and demonstration of US-owned space-based power production systems and to develop an integrated private space-based power industry. The policy would also establish appropriate national defense responsibilities for the protection and defense of the new space-based power industry.

F.       National Space Policy → National Spacefaring Policy

Each new administration releases an updated National Space Policy. The current policy, released in 2010, has these goals: energize competitive domestic industries, expand international cooperation, strengthen stability in space, increase assurance and resilience of mission-essential functions, pursue human and robotic initiatives, and improve space-based Earth and solar observation. These bland goals are obviously intended to maintain the current American paradigm of limited space operations primarily focused on robotic science programs and only infrequent government human operations.

To be fair, there are important elements of the current policy, such as the use of nuclear power in space and radiofrequency spectrum protection. However, the entire policy needs to be refocused, starting with the title. “Space” is merely a place. Policies guide activity and should be appropriately named.

Undertaking space-based power will clearly be a spacefaring undertaking. The revised and renamed National Spacefaring Policy should make clear that a fundamental transformation in US operations throughout the Earth-Moon system will begin. To the current categories of military/intelligence, government human operations at the ISS, commercial satellite operations, and government robotic science and exploration projects, will be added the establishment of routine and continuous government and commercial human operations throughout the Earth-Moon system. This will include, but not be limited to, transportation and logistics; research and development; fabrication, assembly, maintenance, and operation; commercial resource exploration; natural resource recovery and extraction; settlement; protection and defense; and emergency services. This revised policy will guide the paradigm shift from the past focus on limited human operations in space to the new normal of extensive human operations in space.

G.      National Space Transportation Policy → National Spacefaring Logistics Policy

The National Space Transportation Policy is subordinate to the National Space Policy. The National Space Transportation Policy has been where specific directions regarding space transportation systems and organizational ownership have been defined. Consistent with the expansion of the National Space Policy into the National Spacefaring Policy, the National Space Transportation Policy must expand in name and scope to address the national needs for creating an integrated spacefaring logistics infrastructure extending throughout the Earth-Moon system. The National Space Transportation Policy should become the National Spacefaring Logistics Policy.

The name change emphasizes to the public the paradigm shift in human spacefaring operations that must now be undertaken to enable America’s energy security to be achieved through space-based power. Earth-to-orbit space transportation is, after all, just one part of what it will take logistically to open the Earth-Moon system to routine, frequent, and safe government and commercial human operations. Hence, the name change will help to emphasize that the age of human space exploration, within the Earth-Moon system, is transitioning into the age of human spacefaring commercialization. Of course, human space exploration will not end, but will, in fact, expand as the new spacefaring logistics and space-based power transmission capabilities make human exploration far more affordable and safe.

A key part of the updated policy will be to integrate the first initial government and commercial spacefaring logistics operations. Routine, frequent, and safe operations of Americans throughout the Earth-Moon system will be necessary for companies to undertake developing, building, and operating space-based power systems. This requires that a substantial and almost entirely new spacefaring logistics infrastructure, operating throughout the Earth-Moon system, be established. The policy should make clear that the Federal Government will lead this effort in a manner that will foster substantial new entrepreneurship within America and will engage all sectors of America, economically and geographically, in this spacefaring transformational effort.

In this rewritten policy, specific direction should be established to:

  • Implement a National Spacefaring Logistics Agency to oversee the implementation of this policy in an effective and integrated manner and undertake the government responsibilities defined in this policy.
  • Extend aviation airworthiness certification to human spaceflight. To maintain independence, this should be undertaken by the Federal Aviation Administration.
  • Develop, and bring into operation, airworthiness-certified, commercial, fully reusable, TSTO space access systems capable of transporting passengers and cargo to and from LEO. Establish a Civil Reserve Space Fleet, under the control of the Department of Defense, and incorporate these new systems into this fleet.
  • Develop and bring into operational status the Space Launch System to be used for transporting large and oversize cargo and payloads to LEO and for use in launching payloads into higher Earth orbits or on Earth-escape trajectories.
  • Build and bring into operational status an initial Space Logistics Base—with a space dock and co-orbiting space propellant depot—in an LEO “logistics” orbit at an orbital inclination close to 30 degrees.
  • Upgrade and extend the Kennedy Space Center to accommodate the terrestrial spaceport needs for implementing the new National Spacefaring Policy and National Spacefaring Logistics Policy.
  • Upgrade and extend the Johnson Space Center to train the government and commercial space operators necessary to undertake these new logistics capabilities.
  • Utilize the manned spaceflight capabilities developed under the NASA Commercial Crew Program to transport government and contractor personnel to LEO to undertake the assembly and initial operation of the Space Logistics Base.
  • Utilize competitive commercial launch capabilities to transport freight and small-medium payloads to LEO to support the assembly and initial operation of the Space Logistics Base.
  • Direct NASA and the USGS to survey lunar and asteroidal natural resources to support future commercial spacefaring operations.
  • Deploy the initial US Space Guard capabilities.