National Space Policy

A nation's space policy is extremely important, especially as it relates to space law and space doctrine. If we are to understand present US space policy and try to predict its future, we should start with a look at its evolution.(6) We must be mindful that while policy provides space goals and a national framework, it is itself shaped by national interests and national security objectives. This framework leads us towards building and meeting future US requirements and subsequent national space strategies.

Early Policy

The launch of Sputnik I on 4 October 1957 had an immediate and dramatic impact on the formulation of US space policy. Although the military had expressed an interest in space technology as early as the mid-1940s, a viable program failed to emerge for several reasons. These include intense interservice rivalry; military preoccupation with the development of ballistic missiles that prevented a sufficiently high funding priority from being assigned to proposed space systems; and, perhaps most importantly, national leadership that did not initially appreciate the strategic and international implications of emerging satellite technology, and when it did, was committed to an open and purely scientific space program.

Sputnik I changed all that. Besides clearly demonstrating that the Soviets had the missile technology to deliver payloads at global ranges, sputnik led to much wider appreciation of orbital possibilities. The result was the first official US government statement that space indeed was of military significance. This statement was issued on 26 March 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower's science advisory committee and said that the development of space technology and the maintenance of national prestige were important for the defense of the United States. Congress also quickly recognized that space activities were potentially vital to the national security.

The first official national space policy was the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. This act declared that the policy of the United States was to devote space activities to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind. It mandated separate civilian and national security space programs and created a new agency, NASA, to direct and control all US space activities except those "peculiar to or primarily associated with the development of weapons systems, military operations, or the defense of the United States."(7) The Department of Defense was to be responsible for these latter activities.

A legislative basis for DOD responsibilities in space was thereby provided early in the space age. The act established a mechanism for coordinating and integrating military and civilian research and development, encouraged significant international cooperation in space, and called for preserving the role of the US as a leader in space technology and its application.

The policy framework for a viable space program was thus in place. In fact, the principles enunciated by the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which included peaceful focus on the use of space, separation of civilian and military space activities, emphasis on international cooperation, and preservation of a space role, have become basic tenets of the US space program. All presidential space directives issued since 1958 have reaffirmed these basic tenets.

What was missing, however, was a space program of substance. The Eisenhower administration's approach to implementing the new space policy can be characterized as conservative, cautious, and constrained. Early DOD and NASA plans for manned space flight programs were disapproved consistently. Instead the administration preferred to concentrate on unmanned, largely scientific missions and to proceed with those missions at a measured pace. It was left to subsequent administrations to give the policy substance.(8)

Intervening Years

Two presidential announcements--one by John F. Kennedy on 25 March 1961 and the second by Richard M. Nixon on 7 March 1970--were instrumental in providing the needed focus for America's space program. The Kennedy statement came during a period of intense national introspection. The Soviet Union launched and successfully recovered the world's first cosmonaut. Though Yuri Gagarin spent just 89 minutes in orbit, his accomplishment electrified the world and caused the US to question its scientific and engineering skills and its entire educational system. The American response--articulated by President Kennedy as a national challenge to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth--defined US space goals for the remainder of the decade.

Prestige and international leadership were clearly the main objectives of the Kennedy space program. However, the generous funding that accompanied the Apollo program had important collateral benefits as well. It permitted the buildup of US space technology and the establishment of an across-the-board space capability that included planetary exploration, scientific endeavors, commercial applications, and military support systems.(9)

As the decade of the 1960s drew to a close, a combination of factors, including domestic unrest, an unpopular foreign war, and inflationary pressures forced the nation to reassess the importance of the space program compared to other national needs. Against this backdrop, President Nixon made his long-awaited space policy announcement in March 1970. His announcement was a carefully considered and worded statement that was clearly aware of political realities and the mood of Congress and the public. It stated in part:

Space expenditures must take their proper place within a rigorous system of national priorities. . . . What we do in space from here on in must become a normal and regular part of our national life and must therefore be planned in conjunction with all of the other undertakings which are also important to us.(10)

Though spectacular lunar and planetary voyages continued until 1975, largely as a result of budgetary decisions made during the 1960s, it was clear that the Nixon administration considered the space program of intermediate priority and could not justify increased investment or the initiation of large new projects. It viewed space as a medium for exploiting and extending the technological and scientific gains that had already been realized. The emphasis was on practical space applications to benefit American society in a variety of ways.(11)

Within the DOD, this emphasis on practicality translated into reduced emphasis on manned spaceflight, but led to the initial operating capability for many of the space missions performed today. For example, initial versions of the systems now known as the Defense Satellite Communications System, the Defense Support Program, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, and the Navy's Transit navigation satellite program (later to evolve to the Global Positioning System) were all developed and fielded during this period.

One major new space initiative undertaken during the 1970s eventually had far greater impact on the nation's space program than planners had originally envisioned--the space transportation system (STS), or space shuttle. The shuttle's goal was routine, low-cost access to orbit for both civil and military sectors. As development progressed, however, the program experienced large cost and schedule overruns. These problems caused the US space program to lose much of its early momentum as it became apparent that the high costs would adversely affect other space development efforts--both civil and military--and that schedule slippage meant a complete absence of American astronauts in space for the remainder of the decade.(12)

Carter Administration Space Policy

President Jimmy Carter's administration conducted a series of interdepartmental studies to address the malaise that had befallen the nation's space effort. The studies addressed apparent fragmentation and possible redundancy among civil and national security sectors of the US space program and sought to develop a coherent recommendation for a new national space policy. These efforts resulted in two 1978 presidential directives (PD): PD-37 on national space policy and PD-42 on civil space policy.(13)

PD-37 reaffirmed the basic policy principles contained in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, and for the first time, spelled out in coherent fashion the broad objectives of the US space program and the specific guidelines governing civil and national security space activities.(14)

PD-37 was important from a military perspective because it contained the initial, tentative indications that a shift was occurring in the national security establishment's view on space. Traditionally, the military had seen space as a force enhancer; that is, as a medium in which to deploy systems to increase the effectiveness of land, sea, and air forces. Although the focus of the Carter policy was clearly on restricting the use of weapons in space, PD-37 reflected an appreciation of the importance of space systems to national survival, a recognition of the Soviet threat to those systems, and a willingness to push ahead with development of an antisatellite capability in the absence of verifiable and comprehensive international agreements restricting such systems. In other words, the administration was beginning to view space as a potential war-fighting medium.(15)

PD-42, directed exclusively at the civil space sector, set the direction of US efforts over the next decade. However, it was devoid of any long-term space goals, preferring instead to state that the nation would pursue a balanced evolutionary strategy of space applications, space science, and exploration activities. The absence of a more visionary policy reflected clearly the continuing developmental problems with the shuttle and the resulting commitment of larger than expected resources.(16)

Reagan Administration Space Policy

President Ronald Reagan's administration published comprehensive space policy statements in 1982 and 1988. The first, pronounced on 4 July 1982 and embodied in National Security Decision Directive 42 (NSDD-42), reaffirmed the basic tenets of previous (Carter) US space policy and placed considerable emphasis on the STS as the primary space launch system for both national security and civil government missions. In addition, it introduced the basic goal of promoting and expanding the investment and involvement of the private sector in space and space-related activities as a third element of US space operations, complementing the national security and civil sectors.(17)

The single statement of national policy from this period that could most influence military space activities and that clearly reflects transition to a potential space war-fighting framework is NSDD-85, dated 25 March 1983. In this document, President Reagan stated as a long-term objective, elimination of the threat of nuclear armed ballistic missiles through the creation of strategic defensive forces. This NSDD coincided with the establishment of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) and represented a significant step in the evolution of US space policy. Since 1958, the US had for a variety of reasons refrained from crossing an imaginary line from space systems designed to operate as force enhancers to establishing a war-fighting capability in space. The antisatellite (ASAT) initiative of the Carter administration was a narrow response to a specific Soviet threat. The SDI program on the other hand, represented a significant expansion in the DOD's assigned role in the space arena.(18)

The Reagan administration's second comprehensive national space policy in early 1988 incorporated the results of a number of developments that had occurred since 1982, notably the US commitment in 1984 to build a space station and the space shuttle Challenger accident in 1986.

For the first time, the national space program treated commercial space as an equal of the traditional national security and civil space sectors, and addressed it in some detail. Importantly, the new policy retreated dramatically from dependence on the STS and injected new life into expendable launch vehicle programs. In the national security sector, this program was the first to address space control and force application at length, further developing the transition to war-fighting capabilities in space.

In 1988, the last year of the Reagan presidency, Congress passed a law allowing creation of a National Space Council (NSpC)--a cabinet-level organization designed to coordinate national policy among the three space sectors. The incoming George Bush's administration would officially establish and very effectively use the National Space Council.(19)

Bush Administration Space Policy

Released in November 1989 as National Security Directive 30 (NSD-30), and updated in a 5 September 1990 supplement, the Bush administration's national space policy retained the goals and emphasis of the final Reagan administration policy. The Bush policy resulted from an NSpC review to clarify, strengthen, and streamline space policy, and has been further enhanced by a series of national space policy directives (NSPD) on various topics. Areas most affected by the body of Bush policy documentation include civil and commercial remote sensing, space transportation, space debris, federal subsidies of commercial space activities, and space station Freedom.

The policy reaffirms the organization of US space activities into three complementary sectors: civil, national security, and commercial. The three sectors coordinate their activities closely to ensure maximum information exchange and minimum duplication of effort.

Space leadership is a fundamental objective guiding US space activities. The policy recognizes that leadership does not require preeminence in all areas and disciplines of space operations but does require US preeminence in those key areas critical to achieving space goals.(20) Those goals are

to strengthen the security of the United States;

to obtain scientific, technological, and economic benefits for the general population and to improve the quality of life on Earth through space-related activities;

to encourage continuing United States private sector investment in space and related activities;

to promote international cooperative activities, taking into account United States national security, foreign policy, scientific, and economic interests;

to cooperate with other nations in maintaining the freedom of space for all activities that enhance the security and welfare of mankind; and

as a long-range goal, to expand human presence and activity beyond Earth orbit into the solar system.(21)

These general goals are not much changed from the goals articulated in 1978 by President Carter, and their heritage goes back as far as the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act. The major changes are increasing detail in policy objectives and implementation guidelines, the introduction and expansion of emphasis on commercial space activities, and, underlying it all, a maturing recognition that space, like land, sea, and air, is a potential war-fighting medium. Space can be used in many different ways to strengthen the security of the United States. To accomplish these goals, US space activities will be conducted in accordance with the following principles:

The United States is committed to the exploration and use of outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes and for the benefit of all mankind. Peaceful purposes allow for activities in pursuit of national security goals.

The United States will pursue activities in space in support of its inherent right of self-defense and its defense commitments to its allies.

The United States rejects any claims to sovereignty by any nation over outer space or celestial bodies, or any portion thereof, and rejects any limitations on the fundamental right of sovereign nations to acquire data from space.

The United States considers the space systems of any nation to be national property with the right of passage through and operations in space without interference. Purposeful interference with space systems shall be viewed as an infringement on sovereign rights.

The United States shall encourage and not preclude the commercial use and exploration of space technologies and systems for national economic benefit. These commercial activities must be consistent with national security interests and international and domestic legal obligations.

The United States will, as a matter of policy, pursue its commercial space objectives without the use of direct federal subsidies.

The United States shall encourage other countries to engage in free and fair trade in commercial space goods and services.

The United States will conduct international cooperative space-related activities that are expected to achieve sufficient scientific, political, economic, or national security benefits for the nation. The United States will seek mutually beneficial international participation in space and space-related programs.(22)

The Bush policy goes on to detail specific policy. It implements guidelines and actions for each of the three space sectors and for intersector activities.(23)

The civil sector will engage in all manner of space-related scientific research, develop space-related technologies for government and commercial applications, and establish a permanent manned presence in space. NASA is the lead civil space agency.

Commercial policy centers around government activities to promote and encourage commercial space-related endeavors. These efforts seek to secure the economic and other benefits to the nation that a healthy and vigorous commercial space industry would bring. NASA and the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Transportation work cooperatively with the commercial sector and make government facilities and hardware available on a reimbursable basis.

The US will conduct those activities in space that are necessary to national defense. Such activities contribute to security objectives by (1) deterring or, if necessary, defending against enemy attack; (2) assuring that enemy forces cannot prevent our use of space; (3) negating, if necessary, hostile space systems; and (4) enhancing operations of US and allied forces. To do these things, DOD develops, operates, and maintains a robust space force structure capable of satisfying the mission requirements of space support, force enhancement, space control, and force application.

Primarily directed at the civil and national security sectors, several policy requirements apply across sector divisions. These include such things as continuing the technology development and operational capabilities of remote-sensing systems, space transportation systems, and space-based communications systems, and the need to minimize space debris.

In summary, US national space policy has, for the most part, kept pace with the growth of its US space program and is now one of the most well-documented areas of government policy. It clearly articulates goals that are both challenging and within the realm of possibility. We can expect a continuation of the Bush administration's series of NSPDs to further clarify and implement specific areas of US national space programs.

Department of Defense Space Policy

The most recent statement of comprehensive DOD space policy occurred on 4 February 1987. Though released prior to the current national space policy, the DOD policy is consistent with and supports NSD-30. In many instances, the DOD policy served as a model for principles incorporated into later national policy statements regarding the national security sector.(24)

The significance of the DOD policy is the degree to which the department has recognized the utility of space in accomplishing national security objectives and the extent to which it has embraced the space role given to it by law and national policy. That foresight was directly responsible for the development and deployment of the space forces that were so important to US and allied success in Operation Desert Storm.

One of the most important drivers of the 1987 policy was President Reagan's announcement in December 1986 which rescinded earlier direction that the space shuttle would be the primary launch vehicle for all military and civil payloads. By that time, the Challenger accident had occurred, confirming the flaws in a policy that the DOD (and the Air Force) had long opposed. DOD embarked on a long-term launch recovery program and took care to formalize the strategy in the new space policy. "DOD will develop and maintain the capability to execute space missions regardless of failures of single elements of the space support infrastructure."(25) Other important elements of the DOD policy, besides the general purpose of supporting and amplifying US national space policy, are that it:

explicitly recognizes space as a medium within which the conduct of military operations in support of national security can take place, just as on land, sea, and in air;

requires that DOD maintain development, acquisition, and budget planning activities to be able to respond effectively to major space contingencies;

affirms that DOD will actively explore roles for the military man in space, focusing on unique or cost-effective contributions to operational missions; and

provides policy guidelines for the development of specific capabilities to fulfill the military space functions of space support, force enhancement, space control, and force application.(26)

Air Force Space Policy

The earliest recorded statement of Air Force policy regarding space occurred on 15 January 1948, when Gen Hoyt S. Vandenberg stated, "The USAF, as the service dealing primarily with air weapons--especially strategic--has logical responsibility for the satellite." As reflected in General Vandenberg's statement, Air Force leaders have traditionally viewed space as a medium in which the Air Force would have principle mission responsibilities. This view was perhaps best articulated by former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Thomas D. White, when he coined the term aerospace during testimony before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics in February 1959.(27)

Since there is no dividing line, no natural barrier separating these two areas (air and space), there can be no operational boundary between them. Thus air and space comprise a single continuous operational field in which the Air Force must continue to function. The area is aerospace.(28)

As a result of this early positioning, the Air Force assumed the predominate space role within the DOD, and the Air Force space policy evolved as that role grew. Until 1988, however, that policy was never formally documented. In late 1987 and early 1988, the Air Force convened the Blue Ribbon Panel on the future of the Air Force in space--a senior-level working group composed of both space and aviation professionals, that considered whether the service should continue to seek the leadership role for DOD space activities and, if so, how best to proceed.

The panel strongly affirmed the desirability of operating in space to accomplish Air Force missions and achieve wider national security objectives, and it developed a list of recommendations for making most effective use of the space arena in future Air Force operations. On 2 December 1988, the Air Force formally adopted the Blue Ribbon Panel's fundamental assumptions and codified them in a new space policy document. With only minor modification to accommodate organizational change within the service, this document remains the current statement of comprehensive Air Force space policy. The tenets of that policy are:

Space power will be as decisive in future combat as air power is today. This long-term vision recognizes the inherent advantages that space operations bring to military endeavors and looks forward to a time when technology, experience, and widespread acceptance allow the US to make full use of those advantages.

We must be prepared for the evolution of space power from combat support to the full spectrum of military capabilities. The Air Force believes that space is a military operating arena just as are land, sea, and air. Expansion of the space control and force application mission areas is necessary and desirable to take full advantage of the opportunities space offers for effective accomplishment of national security objectives.

The Air Force will make a solid corporate commitment to integrate space throughout the Air Force. To use space effectively, the Air Force must fully institutionalize space operations. There can be no separation of a "space Air Force" and an "aviation Air Force"--combat power is greatest and most effective when operations in the two mediums are closely integrated. To accomplish this integration, the Air Force undertakes to incorporate space into its doctrine, to normalize space responsibilities within the Air Staff, to institute personnel cross-flow measures to expand space expertise throughout the service, to encourage space-related mission solutions and expertise at all major commands and air component commands, and to consolidate space system requirements, advocacy, and operations (exclusive of developmental systems) in Air Force Space Command.

The US, DOD, and Air Force all have a policy for the military space mission areas of space control, force application, force enhancement, and space support and have implementation guidelines for each area. Allowing for slight differences in their dates of issue, each policy is consistent with the other two. This section describes the policy for these mission areas since Air Force space policy offers the most direct and concise guidance available and is the policy that Air Force agencies are directly responsible for implementing.

For aerospace control, the Air Force will acquire and operate antisatellite capabilities. The Air Force will provide battle management/command, control, and communications (C(3)) for US space control operations and will perform the integration of ASAT and surveillance capabilities developed for space control operations. When technology permits cost-effective deployment, the Air Force will acquire and operate space-based antisatellite capabilities.

For force application, if the US should make a ballistic missile defense (BMD) deployment decision, the Air Force will acquire and operate space-based ballistic missile defense assets, will provide battle management/C(3) for BMD, and will integrate BMD forces. The Air Force will acquire and operate space-based weapons when they become a feasible and necessary element of the US force structure.

For force enhancement, the Air Force will continue to acquire and operate space-based systems for navigation, meteorology, tactical warning and attack assessment, nuclear detonation detection, and multiuser communications. The Air Force will continue to support the multiservice approach to conducting space surveillance and for providing mission-unique, space-based communications. The Air Force will acquire and operate a space-based wide-area surveillance, tracking, and targeting capability and will provide space-based means for space surveillance.

For space support, the Air Force will continue its long-standing role to provide DOD launch support. Additionally, the Air Force will continue to provide common-user, on-orbit satellite systems support.

Finally, the policy states that the Air Force will continue to be the major provider of space forces for the nation's defense. Together, national, DOD, and Air Force space policy provides a solid and long-standing basis for military space activities. As the US space program has matured, and as the global security environment has changed, there has been a clearly identifiable trend towards expanding the Air Force's role in space beyond its early focus on force enhancement and space support into the mission areas associated directly with combat operations--space control and force application.

Like earlier military expansions into the undersea environment and into the air, America's decades-long expansion into space has not increased our predisposition to wage war. Rather, it has enhanced our ability to maintain the peace by increasing the options available to US civilian leadership. US military space policy promotes nonaggressive use of space across the spectrum of conflict in support of America's national security goals and objectives, and in compliance with domestic and international law.