Trump Administration Issues New National Space Policy

Trump Administration Issues New National Space Policy

The Trump Administration released a new version of U.S. National Space Policy today. It made one change to the Obama-era 2010 policy in 2017, but otherwise has dealt with space issues through Space Policy Directives and Executive Orders.  This is a complete update and supersedes the 2010 version.

Presidents have issued national space policies for decades, some soon after taking office and others toward the end of their terms. The basic precepts of these policies are quite stable over time and political control of the White House, although the tone varies.

President Trump has dealt with space policy by issuing Space Policy Directives and Executive Orders rather than by changing National Space Policy until now, except for his December 2017 Space Policy Directive 1 (SPD-1) that modified two sentences in Obama’s National Space Policy restoring the goal of landing astronauts on the Moon.

Today’s National Space Policy and associated memorandum to agency officials supersedes the 2010 Obama policy.

Scott Pace, Executive Secretary, National Space Council (center) speaks at the 8th meeting of the National Space Council, December 9, 2020. Screengrab.

Scott Pace, Executive Director of the White House National Space Council and Deputy Assistant to the President said the new policy is similar to those of the past while recognizing new challenges and opportunities.  The four main topics are commercial, international, exploration and science, and national security.

Speaking at the 8th National Space Council meeting today at Kennedy Space Center, FL, Pace stressed that space does not exist for its own sake, but to serve the interests of the nation. Therefore alignment is needed among national security, economic growth, scientific advancement, and stable international relationships and that is what the updated policy intends to ensure.

Trump issued a statement that the policy represents a whole-of-government approach that “recognizes space as a national imperative.”

Through our Artemis program, the United States is working hand-in-hand with commercial and international partners to return to the Moon — this time to stay — and prepare for the next great American adventure, the giant leap to Mars.

Moving forward, the United States will proudly encourage and facilitate the continued growth of an American commercial space sector that generates new markets and promotes entrepreneurship while furthering core United States interests.

The National Space Policy also directs the United States to continue to adapt its national security strategy to defeat aggression and protect national interests in space.  As part of this effort, the newly created sixth branch of our Armed Forces, the Space Force, will enhance the capabilities of our Armed Forces to protect our freedom of operation in, from, and to space.

Under this new policy, the United States will advance our national interests in space and lead a new era of permanent human presence in space on the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

The Department of Defense, Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce, and the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) issued statements on how they are supporting the new policy.

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe also released a statement.  During the Space Council meeting, he revealed that discussions are underway to make the Space Force part of the Intelligence Community (IC), which he leads. The IC consists of 17 components from the State Department to the National Reconnaissance Office to the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency.  No other military services are members, however, only their intelligence units.  Exactly what he has in mind is not clear, but Ratcliffe says he expects a decision in the next month or two, by which he apparently means by January 20, 2021 when the Trump Administration ends.

In support of the National Space Policy, Ratcliffe also said at the meeting that the IC has been directed to increase its support to space defense and add more funding to counterspace threats. The amount is classified, but is a “significant new investment.”  He added that he is working with Space Force leadership to create a new National Intelligence Space Center to provide “unparalleled scientific and technical intelligence on space-related threats” and serve as the intelligence center for the Space Force. He also is creating an Intelligence Community Commercial Space Council to focus on the intersection of commercial space services and national security.

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which builds, owns and manages the nation’s spy satellites, is part of the IC.  Agreement was reached last year for greater alignment between U.S. Space Command and NRO in the event conflict extends into space.  Ratcliffe said the two organizations have been testing this new alignment in a series of war games.

U.S. Space Command is one of the 11 unified combatant commands in charge of warfighting and was reestablished by President Trump in August 2019 after a 17-year hiatus.  It is separate from U.S. Space Force, one of the six military services whose purpose is to “organize, train, and equip” personnel to support the unified commands.

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