New U.S. Space Program Promises Wider Openings for Trans-Atlantic Cooperation     Print Email

The Obama administration has unveiled a broad set of national space policies that emphasize the President’s desire for a fresh approach to international cooperation in the space community – possibly including arms control accords about space. Until now, the U.S. has been a lone hold-out against the calls for such treaties concerning space and the goal of progress on “demilitarizing” space. Read More

The White House is stressing the theme that its approach reverses key aspects of the Bush administration’s approach to space, notably by shifting the emphasis on key sectors from national security to more extensive cooperation with foreign partners, notably in Europe. The goal of strong ties with partners, notably the European Space Agency, is to reap bigger benefits for all participants in space research, technology and exploration.

U.S. media coverage cited officials saying that more details will be released in the coming weeks about the new blueprint.

The National Space Policy announces shifts toward possible arms-control negotiations – something rejected by Washington in the Bush era. The Bush administration, in the space policy it released in August 2006, rejected "any limitations on the fundamental right of the United States to operate in and acquire data from space,” a phrase that was interpreted as giving a green light for the development and use of antisatellite weapons.

Obama also highlighted greater efforts to open up the trans-Atlantic market for space technologies. This call for a wider two-way street has already become part of the complex effort in Washington to reform and streamline the complex system of export controls that apply to satellite and launch technologies.

The new space program confirmed the Obama administration’s controversial determination to get the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) out of the business of launching astronauts, a change with implications for Europe that was reported in a previous European Affairs blog post about the International Space Station. For that, the U.S. now wants to rely on the commercial space industry (and European and Russian government-run programs). This shift reflects the Obama administration’s new approach to space as a place to be explored mainly for the sake of the benefits to be gained on earth in terms of job creation and technological advances such as remote sensing that can be applied to problem-solving on this planet.

In the new 14-page document, there is also specific support for the use of nuclear energy in space, a controversial idea that presumably will be fleshed out in future U.S. policy statements on the issue.

Here are some key quotes from the U.S. statement on National Space Policy:

  • “The United States will pursue bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence-building measures to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, space. The United States will consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies.”
  • “Minimize, as much as possible, the regulatory burden for commercial space activities and ensure that the regulatory environment for licensing space activities is timely and responsive.”
  • “Actively promote the export of U.S. commercially developed and available space goods and services, including those developed by small-and medium-sized enterprises, for use in foreign markets, consistent with U.S. technology transfer and nonproliferation objectives.”


Meghan Kelly, European Affairs