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DSER Comments on Commercializing Human Space Flight

A strategic resource group comments on how the difficulties perceived in transitioning launch responsibilities to the commercial sector safely actually provides a path forward while maintaining government access to orbit.

Bowling Green, KY, May 25, 2010 --( The debate on space policy continues, contrasting the concerns of Congress against the Administration’s proposal for the future surrounding manned orbital space flight by redirecting launch responsibilities from NASA to the private sector. Recently, the topic of the dangers emerging commercial companies would face as they transition into their expanded responsibilities have come to the forefront of the discussion.

During the semiannual meeting of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), General Charles Bolden, Chief of NASA, commented, “I have a very strong sense of urgency about enabling you (private companies) to take over low Earth orbit access,” he said. “It’s critical. We’ve got to do that, but we’ve got to do it safely.”

This topic directly relates to the core of a strategic proposal promoted by DSER, a private strategy group; addressing missing strategic drivers that affect sustainability within manned orbital space flight. “Undoubtedly, the question of safety is paramount when it comes to space matters,” said Dr. Gordon Smith, Ph.D., “addressing it properly, however, also contributes to the sustainability of the industry as a whole.”

Safety as a Strategic Driver
Described in detail in the report “Space Policy via Macro-Economic Analysis,” the DSER strategy group suggests that safety and reliability are key controllable costs within the industry that have widespread effects.

“It all comes down to affordability,” said Alan Thompson, BSME, co-author of the report. “Affordability is a key requirement for sustainability, and successful commercialization is the means by which an industry is perceived as affordable.” This relationship is readily apparent in the successes of the satellite industry and the growing suborbital space flight market. In manned orbital space flight, the DSER strategy group believes this transition to commercial independence has yet to occur because there is no mechanism for addressing on-orbit problems.

“If there were a national capability to address on-orbit problems, maybe like an orbital Coast Guard,” said Dr Smith, “there would have been an opportunity to examine Columbia or emerging commercial craft for damage, and potentially repair it before re-entering the atmosphere. With the new direction proposed by the Administration, we have an even greater need for this capability.”

Industry Transitions
Creating a national capability addressing safety and reliability within manned orbital space flight clearly encourages commercial ventures. According to Mr. Thompson, “Being able to repair or rescue damaged assets while they are still in orbit, we reduce the risk faced by companies considering expanding out into space. Reduced risk makes it easier to make that choice.”

Such a capability also identifies a path forward for our national programs. “Obviously, a national system will take time and expertise, for which NASA is well-qualified to contribute,” said Dr. Smith. “There are a great many technology options that could contribute; perhaps drawn from existing Ares program, perhaps revisiting other exploratory technologies. Other agencies, such as the FAA and Air Force, could also be brought in.”

“Regardless of the specific mix, an ‘orbital coast guard’ program would maintain an independent government access to LEO, satisfying NASA’s long-term exploration goals and protecting our national security needs,” continued Dr. Smith. “As the commercial sector grows into its responsibilities, the day-to-day responsibilities for the ISS may steadily and increasingly be transferred to the private sector as they expand into human space flight, while the government transitions to this support role.”

“The advantages such a program brings are critical for our space industry, especially as we consider the growing competition from international programs,” said Mr. Thompson. “The program we’re suggesting not only helps human space flight; it also touches on all markets. As such, it helps to reinvigorate our leadership role in space, and provides the infrastructure that is required to push farther out into our solar system.”

Copies of “Space Policy via Macroeconomic Analysis” and other related work are available for download from the DSER web site at


About DSER
DSER is a private group dedicated to promoting a sustainable manned space flight industry by providing decision-makers with an independent view and analysis on relevant mid- to long term strategic issues. DSER consults with academics, policy makers, economists and other advocates in the space and international affairs communities to discuss and refine the concepts of their strategy.
Contact Information
Gordon Smith, Ph.D.

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