National Space Council Crucial to Space Legislation

Colorado Springs, Colo.—A reconstituted National Space Council can “help streamline” space decision making and support needed legislative changes, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) said Tuesday.

Speaking at the 33rd Space Symposium here, Bridenstine said he plans to introduce a second version of his American Space Renaissance Act this year, and that a National Space Council (NSC) “will provide opportunities for us to get buy-in from members of Congress” on specific provisions that can help achieve his goal to “maintain America as the preeminent spacefaring nation.”

While the previous version of the ASRA was not signed into law, Bridenstine said that “16 different provisions from the act” were enacted through other legislation, including the National Defense Authorization Act. Even so, Bridenstine said there is more work to do in space policy and that an NSC, which the Trump Administration has promised to reconstitute through an executive order, would help with needed reforms.

One area where Bridenstine wants to see change is in authorities over space situational awareness. “The Department of Defense is providing this service to the world for free,” Bridenstine said, spending “an enormous amount of time” on monitoring vehicles and debris to avoid collisions, when “they need to focus on other things.” Bridenstine is proposing to “take the unclassified data out of the [Joint Space Operations Center] and provide it to a civilian authority.” He compared such a transition to the creation of the civilian Federal Aviation Authority to monitor air traffic in 1958, after which he said “collisions went down” and “the industry thrived.”

He also said an NSC would be “involved in coming up with solutions to have an America-first launch policy,” which has focused on finding a replacement for the Russian-made RD-180 engine used in United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket.

“Because we are lacking our own launch capabilities, the American taxpayer is on the hook for building space constellations and space capabilities that … have a military capacity. The American taxpayer is paying for that, in many cases for foreign countries,” Bridenstine said. While insisting that “we need global partnerships” in space operations, Bridenstine said, “if we’re doing it because we have no options domestically, then that would be a problem.”

Others, especially Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), have resisted the relaunch of a National Space Council. “I’m not a big fan of that idea,” Rogers told Space News at the symposium. “I’m trying to get rid of layers of interference and decision making and streamline it, and I think that would be a step backwards. So I kind of hope they step away from that.”

In response to Rogers’ comments, Bridenstine said, “I understand his concerns.” Rogers has criticized the US space enterprise for being too complex and requiring approval from too many agencies. Bridenstine agreed, saying “we don’t want to have a National Space Council that creates even more spaghetti on that eye-chart.” And he has more hope that a NSC can help.

If an? NSC can be “organized appropriately with the right vision and direction, they can provide a lot of the guidance that is necessary for us to really figure out how to streamline that process.” He also thinks there’s room for Rogers to see the light on the issue. “I think that if Chairman Rogers saw that as what they were supposed to do and what they were chartered to do, I think Chairman Rogers would definitely be on board with it.”