Thursday, October 17, 2013

Space and reality -- National Space Society Policy Issues Report

Report of the Policy Committee
October 16, 2013

The Policy Committee has contributions to make in at least four key areas as it stands:

(1)KALAM:  Support for the NSS-Kalam Initiative (or whatever we call it);
(2) USGOV: Trying to get action from the US government which  has the greatest benefit to the goals of NSS;
(3) POSITIONS: Generating positions statements mainly to support (1) and (2), but also to meet other goals of NSS as an organization, such as input to press releases and communication with membership, and achieving visibility on issues to help with fund-raising;
(4) VISITS: activities like Congressional visits or renewed phone tree, intended both to get membership support to assist (1) and (2), but also enhance membership experience and NSS visibility.

The needs are greater than what any one person can do justice to... but we have more than one person. I am especially grateful to Dale Skran for accepting the position as Deputy here, to spearhead aspects which I am not doing justice to, as I try to focus very intensely on certain areas.

With regard to POSITIONS, we have issued three new positions.  They included a response to a request for comment on new ITAR regulations, a statement on the NASA budget, and a response to a request for input from the NRC on the justification for human spaceflight.   The papers can be found at,, and We had lots of really serious input to both, and I like to believe they have had more traction than we  have seen as yet. We have also had deep discussions of space solar power (SSP), drawing not only of the policy committee but two advisory committees I have set up, one on SSP and another on low-cost launch technology –which are also the two pillars of Kalam’s proposals. For SSP, the existing NSS position paper is a few years old, but not a real problem; I am planning to consolidate what I have seen so far (about 200 pages, plus a couple of important reports) into a new draft, but my first goal is to follow up more concretely what I have learned, both in KALAM and USGOV.

Re KALAM and USGOV – I am extremely excited about what I have seen in three places:

In my view, these two things, considered together, make it far more likely that humans really will be able to settle space in a serious, cost-effective way – but only if we follow up and make the most of both opportunities. The DARPA activity looks a whole lot like the proposal from Kalam (and Gopal in his group) for a Hypersonic Test Vehicle (HTV), which makes them nervous; for example, Gopal urges us to consider the warning at:

That article is well worth reading.  On the plus side, it shows how Sponable is focusing on the key goal of developing enabling technologies for the private sector to deploy. It admits that a Mach 10 demonstrator is not  a true RLV – but is closer than the more conservative, less hi tech Mach 3 demonstrators planned by others with less resources. But the quotes from higher up folks in DARPA about giving equal consideration to vehicles without wings is a real worry (as Gopal stresses, for excellent technical reasons). The space movement has had many great political victories in the past which turned to ashes when we didn’t stay on top of the details and the implementation.

Mankins’ NIAC report (unlike the earlier IAA) report is “a whole new Bible” for SSP, in my view, because of how actionable it is. In his approach, we can do a whole lot of crucial work on earth, without needing a billion dollars, to mature the technology.

Discussions with Kalam’s group about hosting a great new workshop in India have worried me a lot. What is to keep them from becoming more empty talkfests? Mankins’ new report is really crucial in giving us something substantive to talk about and to do nest, without which UN style meetings are beside the point.  Both in USGOV and in India, the need for better focus on what a workshop will accomplish has been the real sticking point – and we are well-poised now to handle that. Still, there is one caveat: while John’s new plan is “THE” team A approach to SSP, we do need to keep room open for options like nonterrestrial materials (NTM) and the kind of mirror technology which the Indians seem to prefer; in addition to John, I hope that Ed McCullough can help push forward the technical substance of those “team B” options. To be honest – John’s new report begins to meet the very tough kinds of standards of NSF, and I am thinking about the possibility of an NSF role, which forces a whole new level of technical credibility. If a workshop plan meets high enough standards, I can envision a possibility of NSF cosponsorship, which the Indians would very much want. The Kalam declarations require a new high level of technical competence and immersion from within NSS – and I think they have been favorably surprised by how much that does now exist.

The US government shutdown has had huge costs to the USGOV and KALAM threads. In fact, we almost lost the possibility of India as a partner, when the existing US-India collaboration on their Mars mission appeared frozen out; however, that was resolved, and we seem to be back on track –though elections in India will take up most of Kalam’s personal attention until the end of November. The DARPA XS-1 meeting was cancelled. Some in the House have proposed that all government activity deemed “nonessential,” now on furlough, should be permanently cut off; yet the business model of SpaceX and Orbital would be extremely dislocated if that happened.  I had a meeting downtown at a very high level, enough to be sensitive, which had to be cancelled due to furloughs even at very high levels.  This has drawn in some of my own energy as well. I was also supposed to have discussions in China myself this week, cancelled (except for a video skype contact) due to cancellation of all official travel.

Regarding Congressional visits – our agreement to do a major joint briefing with IEEE has also been put on hold until the shutdown issue is firmly behind us. (A six week extension would not do the job.) But if Dale can get something going in the meantime, that would be great.

Dale has set up and run an advisory committee to address key issues – basically any issues in the Roadmap which are not within the scope of low cost access to LEO and SSP.  Please see his report on the activities of the NSS-ACSI for details.

Lynne suggested we form a subcommittee of the policy committee to do translation, from positions to press releases and such.  An ad hoc subcommittee consisting of Dale Skran, Al Globus, and David Brandt-Erichsen was formed to produce the press release for the- NASA budget position.

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