January 25, 2017

Outer Space is the Next Commercial Frontier



Today, the Niskanen Center is releasing a research paper on the future of outer space commercialization. Outer space capabilities play a crucial role in the United States’ economy and national security. Commercial space endeavors, such as new launch vehicles and satellites, are on the cutting edge of space development and progress.

Promoting these enterprises would benefit our economy and national security. However, companies wishing to use space are hindered by complex and cumbersome regulations and governance mechanisms. To ensure that America remains a leader in space, the government should take steps to reform how it oversees commercial outer space.

The steps outlined in the paper—reforms on government organization, business practices, and regulatory structures—are only initial suggestions. With careful application, however, they could create an environment in which commercial space flourishes, and the United States remains at the forefront of space exploration and commercialization.

From the Executive Summary:

This paper argues for the importance of commercial uses of outer space to the economy and national security of the United States. It lays out a short history of developments in commercial outer space, enumerates the challenges facing this emerging market, and offers suggestions for policies to address these challenges. It’s not possible to provide comprehensive answers to all of the problems the United States may encounter in outer space, but the suggestions provided offer a starting point for creating a healthy, safe, and robust commercial space environment. 

Commercial outer space can promote economic growth, innovation, and stronger national security. However, achieving these goals will require several changes in space policy:

 

  • The Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) should be elevated to a separate bureau under the Department of Transportation;
  • Responsibility for situational awareness of non-national-security-related space assets should be placed in a non-profit, non-governmental, multi-stakeholder organization;
  • When the government requires space capabilities, it should buy privately-provided services and encourage competition in launch and non-launch markets; and
  • Government agencies with regulatory or oversight authority over the commercial space industry should default to approval for new missions. Agency procedures for overruling default approval should be transparent and should include a process of appeal.   

The United States is on the cusp of having an independent commercial space market. With a few smart decisions and a policy of regulatory restraint, the government can simultaneously promote innovation, growth, and national security, while proving that enterprise in space does not require the backing of a large nation state. That would be a giant leap for mankind. 

You can read the research paper in its entirety here.