An Assertive New National Space Policy

Updated Below

The Bush Administration has issued a new National Space Policy that stresses unilateral American freedom of action in space. The new policy is intended to “enable unhindered U.S. operations in and through space to defend our interests there.”

The policy affirms “the use of outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity.”

But it declares that the United States will “take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests.”

The policy, which supersedes a 1996 Presidential Decision Directive, was almost certainly promulgated in a National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD), which has not been publicly disclosed. Instead, a ten page unclassified summary was released late last week.

In large part, the new policy tracks closely with the previous Clinton policy. But it also departs from it in significant and surprising ways.

The previous policy prudently reserved judgment “on the feasibility and desirability of conducting further human exploration activities” beyond the International Space Station in Earth orbit.

But in a rhetorical flight of fancy, the new Bush policy purports to adopt a new national “objective of extending human presence across the solar system,” no less.

Like the earlier policy, the new policy continues to authorize the sometimes controversial use of nuclear power sources in space, but it also goes on to prescribe approval procedures for the extremely improbable scenario of “non-government spacecraft utilizing nuclear power sources.”

The 1996 policy stated that “Space nuclear reactors will not be used in Earth orbit without specific approval by the President or his designee.” This provision seemed to embrace a 1989 proposal by the Federation of American Scientists and others to ban nuclear reactors in orbit as a means of forestalling deployment of high-power orbital space weapons.

The new policy rejects that or any other infringement on unilateral U.S. freedom of action.

“The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space,” the Bush policy warns.

The new policy also addresses the problem of space debris, and the classification and declassification of space-related defense and intelligence information, among other important topics.

The text of the 1996 National Space Policy may be found here.

A September 26 NASA Notice on the development of Advanced Radioisotope Power Systems may be found here.

The FAS proposal to ban nuclear reactors in Earth orbit was introduced in “Space Reactor Arms Control” (pdf) by Joel Primack, et al, in Science and Global Security, Volume 1 (1989).

Update: The goal of “extend[ing] human presence across the solar system” is not new to this National Space Policy, but has precursors in Reagan and Bush I Administration policies, several readers point out. And the identical language appeared in the 2004 Vision for Space Exploration, as noted by Jeff Foust in Space Politics.

No Responses to “An Assertive New National Space Policy”

  1. J October 10, 2006 at 1:44 PM #

    Steven,

    Since you brought up the National Space Policy, let me give you some not-for-attribution background on a couple of issues you mentioned.

      But in a rhetorical flight of fancy, the new Bush policy purports to adopt a new national “objective of extending human presence across the solar system,” no less.

    Actually, this is similar to language in the Reagan 1988 and Bush Sr. 1989 space policies (which are so similar that they probably came from the same word-processing file). In both of those policies, there’s a section near the beginning called “Goals and Principles” where you’ll find that goal 6 reads, “to expand human presence and activity beyond Earth orbit into the solar system.” The Clinton administration decided to throttle back on that, resulting in the less ambitious statement you quoted from the 1996 policy. A related data point: Congress passed and Reagan signed the Space Settlement Act of 1988, which is still on the books (except for the requirement for biennial progress reports to Congress, which was repealed).

      But it declares that the United States will “take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests.”

    The wording is a little different from previous policies, but this is nothing new.

      “The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space,” the Bush policy warns.

    This is nothing new. What’s new is that this time you can see it.

    The most remarkable thing about this policy is that it took almost 3 years to develop it, and it says almost nothing new. The most noteworthy changes are the spectrum section and the nukes-in-space section that opens the door for private-sector development of nuclear power sources for satellites (I have no idea what prompted them to include this). Also note a format change that breaks with convention: for the first time, the national security section is in front of the civil space section. Not by accident, I suspect.

    Not sure if you were aware that the Bush administration has been placing an appendix called “implementation actions” on many of its policies. These are never released publicly, even if the policies and implementation actions are unclassified.

  2. alan newhouse October 10, 2006 at 6:55 PM #

    I understand the reason for the non-government space nuclear power stuff is to address [provide a procedure for] a proposal [hopefully dead] for a quasi-private organization [IOSTAR] to build [with govt. loan guarantees] and launch a space tug using a nuclear reactor for its power. The tug would “service” satellites from LEO to GEO.

  3. Lorne Ipsum October 14, 2006 at 1:53 PM #

    FYI,

    Spurred in part by Steven’s post, I decided to do a point-by-point comparison of the 1996 and 2006 documents. It’s available in handy podcast form right
    here
    .

    My take: the new policy seems to largely just put in formal words a number of things that have been brought forward on previous occasions.

    Lorne

  4. IOSTAR - SWANSAT June 14, 2007 at 11:27 PM #

    The US Department of Energy (the DOE) and its predecessor agencies have provided nuclear power systems for use in space applications for over 35 years. These systems are safe, proven, reliable, maintenance free, and capable of producing either heat or electricity for decades under remote harsh environment such as in deep space exploration. The unique characteristics of these systems make them especially suited for applications where large arrays of solar cells are not practical. To date, DOE has provided 44 RTGs for use on a total of 24 missions to provide some or all of the onboard electric power.
    -source: http://nuclear.gov/space/space-desc.html

    The 4-star Gen Tony McPeak, Bobby D’Ausilio, Jim Stuart, Frankin Willians ,Mark Sturza, (who essentially will make up management of http://www.IOSTARCORP.COM) will develop ongoing applications beyond “space tug boats” – including the power payloads and communications payloads for SWANSAT – delivering 600,000,000 connections per sat. (swansat.com)