New Executive Orders for GPS, Space Council

New Executive Orders for GPS, Space Council

President Trump signed two new space-related Executive Orders (EOs) this week.  One takes steps to protect critical infrastructure from disruptions to systems that provide positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) services. DOD’s Global Positioning System (GPS) is the best known of these.  It also incentivizes efforts to develop alternatives to GPS.  The other EO adds new members to the White House National Space Council.

The use of GPS and its international cousins, collectively known as Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), is pervasive throughout the world.  Originally designed for the military, GPS now underpins much of modern society from enabling financial transactions to mapping to precision farming to operations of the electrical grid and cell phones.

Its 24 operational satellites and ground control system continue to upgraded and modernized by DOD to be more robust and secure, but jamming and spoofing are increasingly common.  The system is also vulnerable to disruption by energetic particles emitted by the Sun, referred to as space weather.

Two key issues are how to protect GPS and other PNT systems from disruptions caused by Mother Nature or adversaries, and how to ensure there are alternatives so it is not a single point failure.

The February 12 EO on “Strengthening National Resilience through Responsible Use of Positioning, Navigation and Timing Services” states that it is U.S. policy “to ensure that disruption or manipulation of PNT services does not undermine the reliable and efficient functioning of its critical infrastructure.”

It comes after DOD, which owns, operates and is highly dependent upon GPS, issued its own PNT strategy last year warning that DOD’s “overdependence on GPS has become a vulnerability that must be addressed through the incorporation of alternative and complementary PNT capabilities.”  But DOD is just one of many agencies that rely on GPS, not to mention the private sector.

The EO begins by directing the Secretary of Commerce to provide certain government agencies and private sector users with “PNT profiles.”  The profiles will enable them to identify systems, networks and assets that depend on PNT services, detect any disruption or manipulation of those services, and manage the risks. In addition, the Secretary of Homeland Security is to develop a plan to test related critical infrastructure vulnerabilities.

The Secretaries of Transportation, Energy and Homeland Security are to develop plans to engage with the owners or operators of critical infrastructure and create pilot programs to inform research and development (R&D) opportunities. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is charged with developing a national plan for R&D and pilot testing of PNT services that are not dependent on GPS.

Future government contracts will include information about vulnerabilities and risks in order encourage the private sector to use other PNT services and develop “new robust and secure PNT services.”

The GPS Innovation Alliance, an industry group that seeks to promote, protect and enhance GPS, welcomed the EO, calling it the “next crucial step in ongoing efforts to maintain the security, robustness, and redundancy of GPS capabilities….”

Scott Pace, center, sitting behind NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Vice President Mike Pence at the August 2019 National Space Council meeting. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

The day after issuing the PNT EO, Trump signed another that adds the Secretary of Energy, the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy to the membership of the White House National Space Council.

The Space Council was reestablished by Trump in 2017 and is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.  That brings to 14 the number of departments, agencies, and presidential advisors on the Council, With the addition of the Department of Energy (DOE), it now includes all the departments referenced in the PNT EO.

In a statement, Scott Pace, Executive Secretary of the Space Council, pointed out that the DOE has contributed to space missions for decades.

“The Department of Energy’s research and capabilities have long contributed to American space exploration priorities. DOE National Laboratories conduct critical research to develop technologies necessary for powering human spaceflight, lunar surface operations, and future missions to Mars. The Department of Energy’s representation on the National Space Council highlights the importance of the Department’s ongoing work to achieve the space policy objectives of the United States.” – Scott Pace

DOE is responsible for the nation’s nuclear stockpile and provides the plutonium for the radioisotope power sources used on NASA probes that cannot rely on solar energy because they are too far from the Sun or on surfaces. It is a partner with NASA in developing nuclear power systems for surface operations on the Moon and Mars like the Kilopower project. Its High Energy Physics office also participates in space science missions like the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer cosmic particle detector attached to the International Space Station.

Dan Brouillette, then Deputy Secretary and now Secretary of DOE, participated in the last Space Council meeting in August 2019 and said “space is a strategic focus” for his department.  Citing DOE’s long history in space activities, he added that “I would argue that DOE stands for Department of Exploration.”

In a statement after release of the EO, he said the Department “through our nuclear R&D, has long provided the capabilities to provide fuel for spacecraft for deep space missions. We look forward to working across the federal government and with industry to renew our commitment to space.”  Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabber added that DOE’s membership “amplifies our nation’s commitment towards learning more about our universe, and creating innovative technologies to assist in advancing development in space.”

Pace also said addition of the directors of the National Economic Council and Domestic Policy Council illustrates their “strong support for growing the space economy and streamlining regulatory burdens in the space sector.”


This article has been updated.

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