Space: The Strategic High Ground

(Washington, D.C.): U.S. security, commercial, and technological interests in space are being challenged on a broad front, unequalled in the thirty years since this nation entered the space age. Leadership — whereby substance is married to rhetoric — and vision providing a clear direction for future activity are urgently required to assure a preeminent position for America in space during the 1990’s and into the next century.

This paper reviews the nature and dimension of the challenges currently facing the U.S. in the space arena, and assesses the consequences of failing to effectively design and implement a program of American space leadership. The recommendations presented — if pursued with vigor by the new and future Administrations, with the support of Congress — will have a positive and dramatic impact on the ability of this nation to operate in space from a position of strategic, commercial, and technological strength.


  • With regard to space policy, the United States must increasingly operate in a dynamic, international environment that is becoming ever more threatening to its security, commercial and technological interests.

  • The space program of the Soviet Union is the single most significant space-oriented security challenge faced by the United States and its allies.

    The sustained commitment and breadth of the Soviet space program is overwhelming, and dwarfs the more restrained efforts undertaken by the Western democracies.

    The Soviet space program is aimed at ensuring military control of space; it stands in direct contradiction of the Soviet charge against the United States concerning the "militarization of space," and throws into question the sincerity of the USSR’s diplomatic initiatives ostensibly aimed at preserving space solely for peaceful purposes.


  • Surrender to the Soviet Union of a position of superiority in space would revolutionize the balance of power or "correlation of forces" between the two countries, to the great detriment of U.S. and allied security interests.

    Failure to ensure America’s ability to have assured access to space would have the same, or even greater, adverse impact on our national security than would an inability to protect strategic lines of communication or to operate on the open seas.


  • In the commercial realm, a growing list of countries are challenging the U.S. in a broad array of space activities.

    Failure to compete successfully in the international marketplace of space-related services and products would forfeit for the U.S. an area of traditional, and increasingly vital, competitive trade advantage.


  • Technologically, the state of the U.S. space program is contributing to the loss of America’s edge in the international marketplace.

    This state of affairs is helping to erode in the current and coming generation of Americans a foundation for technological excellence.


  • A national inability or unwillingness to operate on the cutting edge of technology will deprive the United States of important trade and national security advantages, as well as the many unforseen spin-off benefits that have in the past enhanced the standard-of-living of all Americans.

Policy Recommendations

  • The first order of business for the new Administration must be to establish a sound foundation for space policy-making based upon a new National Space Council, chaired by the Vice President.

  • A robust capability ensuring U.S. access to space ranks as a first priority. It will require establishment of a space infrastructure that will permit the United States to operate effectively in space. Vital elements of such a space infrastructure are:

      Expendable Launch Vehicles (ELV’s): The United States must have a diverse array of ELV’s capable of lifting a variety of payloads into low-earth and geo-synchronous orbit, including the modernization and expansion of launch support facilities.

      Advanced Launch System (ALS): This program, now in technology development, is designed to provide a heavy-lift capability at greatly reduced launch costs. As such, it will provide a vital capability for the future use of space, including for military purposes. It offers the added benefit of generating technology advances that can be applied to the whole array of existing and future launch vehicles.

      Space Shuttle: Even with such a family of ELV’s, the United States will have a continuing requirement for the space shuttle through the end of the century. Work now underway to identify and correct problems with the shuttle must, accordingly, continue to receive high priority.

      National Aerospace Plane (NASP): This program will provide the next generation of manned space vehicles, based upon revolutionary advances in materials and propulsion. Its development and use will have broad value for national security, commercial interests and American technology. NASP can also help inspire renewed public interest in and support for U.S. leadership in space.


  • The United States must develop and deploy the means of deterring or countering Soviet anti-satellite capabilities, and move forward with a first-phase deployment of strategic defenses using ground- and space-based systems to protect against Soviet and/or third country nuclear ballistic missile attack, either by accident or design.

  • The United States should proceed with the timely development and assembly of the Space Station "Freedom" which should serve as an effective platform for a wide range of research activities, including those deemed necessary for national security purposes.

  • U.S. military satellite programs should seek to exploit new technologies for early-warning and command, control and communication (e.g., Boost Surveillance and Tracking System — BSTS), lowering payload requirements through reduced weight (e.g., Lightsats), and enhancing their ability to operate in wartime conditions through hardening, mobility and other means of improved survivability (e.g., Milstar).

  • To operate in space for long periods requires adequate power supplies. New initiatives are required in this area to investigate the means for long-term space-power generation, distribution and storage (e.g., nuclear power, superconductivity and related technologies).

  • Government and industry must work cooperatively to exploit fully the potential of space commercialization. The United States must maintain consistent policies in support of this objective. It should, therefore, refuse future proposals providing for the launch of American satellites aboard launch vehicles of non-allied nations, and should seek a fair-pricing agreement with the allied launch services community to assure genuine competition for American companies.

    In particular, for commercial and national security reasons, the United States should continue its policy of prohibiting U.S. satellite launches aboard Soviet vehicles. Moreover, bilateral space ventures with the Soviets should be kept — for sound national security and technology transfer reasons — to a minimum. Specifically, they should not include major undertakings like a joint mission to Mars.


  • Finally, with respect to its long-term space agenda, the United States should focus initially on establishing a self-sustaining permanent lunar base in order to:

      resuscitate the Nation’s scientific, engineering, and industrial communities’ commitment to space — as well as that of the public at large;

      pull technology forward, and provide a clear national objective for shaping the requirements for a vigorous U.S. space infrastructure; and,

      provide, among other things, an exploration outpost, scientific laboratory, and transportation hub.

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