The Trump administration should promote policies within the business community to advance U.S. space capabilities in order to maintain the nation's strategic edge over Russia and China, according to a report from the Center for a New American Security.
The report recommends the federal government issue clarifying guidance on the international Outer Space Treaty to incentivize commercial exploitation of space rather than restricting it. The United Nations treaty, implemented in 1967, bars nations from claiming sovereignty over any part of space, but is less clear on the rights of a company or individual.
This ambiguity is "no longer sufficient" for the future of American space exploration, particularly as foreign adversaries such as Russia and China continue to develop capabilities designed to compromise U.S. space-based assets like navigation, surveillance, and communications, according to the report.
Jerry Hendrix, the director of the defense strategies and assessments program at the Center for a New American Security who co-authored the report, said the establishment of regulations for businesses to operate in space will allow for greater collaboration between the government and private sector in developing critical national security capabilities.
"The best way for the United States to maintain its edge, which is critical, is to fully make use of the innovations that are going on in the commercial market right now," Hendrix told the Washington Free Beacon.
Entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX, one of two companies authorized to conduct U.S. national security space launches for the government, for example, has made it less costly for the military to launch satellites into orbit by flying reusable rockets. United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that is also contracted by the military to launch top-secret satellites into orbit, is now investing in a capability that will allow certain platforms to operate in space for a longer period of time.
Hendrix said private sector innovations like these will not only provide the military with cheaper access to space, but also with superior, more resilient capabilities.
The U.S. military relies on satellites to carry out precision-strike capabilities, to track and detect nuclear warheads and other threats, and to conduct surveillance by GPS, among other things.
Navy Vice Admiral Charles Richard, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, warned in March that China and Russia were moving rapidly to develop enhanced space-based capabilities to cripple American military satellites. Both countries have developed space-based weapons like satellite jammers, lasers, and high-power microwave weapons that can disable missiles and paralyze tanks.
"While we're not at war in space, I don't think we can say we are exactly at peace either," Richard said. "With rapidly growing threats to our space systems, as well as the threat of a degraded space environment, we must prepare for a conflict that extends into space."
Hendrix said President Donald Trump's business background makes him optimistic the administration will help to fully leverage the commercial space industry, particularly as it relates to U.S. national security.
"The Trump administration presents a unique opportunity in the sense that you have businessman who has brought lots of businessmen into his administration at the very moment that the commercial sector is bringing so many innovations to the marketplace with regard to space flight and the use of space," Hendrix said.