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Statement - Dr. John H. Gibbons

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Statement of

Dr. John H. Gibbons

Assistant to the President for Science and Technology

Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy


National Space Transportation Policy

before the

Subcommittee on Space

Committee on Science, Space and Technology

U.S. House of Representatives

September 20, 1994

I appreciate the opportunity to be here with the Committee today to discuss one of the most important areas of space policy - space transportation.

The Clinton Administration has made science and technology a high priority item on the national agenda. Our national space transportation capability is a fundamental part of pursuing science and technology in the national interest, whether it be national security, communications, or science and technology for environmental studies. The Administration's new launch policy recognizes this and builds a firm foundation for the U.S. future in space, in the context of a dynamic and complex global marketplace.

Space policy is an important topic in the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which incorporated the functions of the National Space Council. As I am sure you know, the Administration has been and continues to a be strong supporter of the International Space Station. In addition to the Space Station, the NSTC has been at the center of several other space issues, including three major statements of space policy: Convergence of U.S. Polar Weather Satellite Systems (May 5), Landsat Remote Sensing Strategy (May 5), and most recently the National Space Transportation Policy (August 5).

These policy statements have been part of the Administration's broad effort to reinvent government, consolidating and streamlining federal programs while allocating clear lines of responsibility, and promoting economic competitiveness. Post-Cold War realities are creating new opportunities for both competition and cooperation and we seek to ensure that the United States benefits from those opportunities.

The Administration's space transportation policy sets a clear course for the launch policy part of the nation's space program. It provides a coherent strategy for supporting and strengthening U.S. space launch capability to meet the needs of the civilian, national security, and commercial sectors.

Challenges to Improving Space Transportation

The previous Administration committed itself to building a new expendable launch vehicle through a joint NASA-DOD program. In the current budget environment, and in light of emerging technical advances in reusable launch vehicles, we have concluded that continuing such an approach would neither be affordable nor effective.

As persons familiar with space transportation technology will readily attest, there is no shortage of innovative ideas for improving space launch systems. Ideas range from evolving expendable vehicles and shuttle upgrades to single- stage-to-orbit concepts, air-breathing systems, and even more exotic ideas. There is a shortage of government funds to pursue all promising ideas, however, and budget limits continue to be a painful but very necessary reality if we want to be fiscally responsible.

The U.S. space launch fleet is aging and costly. Major private sector investments in expendable launch vehicles have helped maintain a U.S. competitive presence in the international market, which has in turn helped hold down launch costs for the U.S. government. Unfortunately, the private sector can not bear the full burden of improving U.S. space launch systems alone. Growing foreign competition, now including Russia and China, has cut into the market share of U.S. firms and declining defense budgets have contributed to significant overcapacity in traditional expendable launch vehicles. The continuing downsizing and consolidation we have seen in the defense industry has included major space launch manufacturers as well.

Looking ahead, we expect government spending for space to remain relatively constant while the commercial space sector demand grows. New commercial opportunities, such as mobile satellite communications, direct audio broadcasts, remote sensing, and satellite-based navigation systems underscore the importance of space to the emerging global information infrastructure. These information-driven industries will be a cornerstone of U.S. competitiveness for decades to come, and dependable, affordable access to space will be crucial to U.S. economic interests. In light of this, commercial requirements will be a necessary and integral part of planning any successful next generation launch system.

In a recent study by NASA, six U.S. aerospace firms came together to assess the potential markets that could emerge as a result of lower cost access to space. In their conclusion, they made an important observation that I believe is consistent with the Administration's new space transportation policy:

"The future space transportation system selected must be responsive to commercial user requirements in addition to those of government users. While low operating cost is fundamental, other parameters, such as launch dependability, higher reliability, very short booking time, and user friendliness, are of equal importance....Unless the next space transportation system satisfies these needs, that system will not be widely used commercially."

And I might add, that would mean higher costs for the U.S. government as it seeks to maintain access to space for national security, public safety, and scientific missions.

Assigning Clear Roles and Responsibilities

The new policy establishes roles and responsibilities for the chief agencies - NASA and DOD - by clearly assigning each agency a unique lead role, reflecting its particular capabilities and resources. The DOD will be the lead agency for modernizing and evolving current ELV systems. NASA will be the lead agency for technology development and demonstration of next-generation reusable launch systems, such as the single-stage-to-orbit concept.

NASA will be pushing the cutting edge of technology, focusing its investments on the development and demonstration of a next generation reusable system. The policy calls for a decision to be made no later than December 1996 on whether to proceed with a sub-scale flight test to prove the concept of single- stage-to-orbit. The goal of this effort is to support a decision by the end of the decade on the development of an operational next generation reusable launch system.

It is envisioned that the private sector could have a significant role in managing the development and operation of a new reusable space transportation system. In anticipation of this role, NASA will actively involve the private sector in planning and evaluating its launch technology activities. This means doing business in a new way in space launch - especially in involving the private sector in defining system requirements. We are actively addressing the issue of how this government/industry partnership should be structured.

DOD will be the lead agency for modernization and evolution of our current expendable launch vehicle fleet, taking prudent cost-effective measures to improve performance, reduce costs and increase reliability to support national needs. In doing so, the DOD will factor in the needs of the commercial space launch industry, with a view towards keeping America competitive in the global launch services market.

The objective of DOD's effort to improve and evolve current ELVs is to reduce costs while improving reliability, operability, responsiveness, and safety. Consistent with mission requirements, the DOD will cooperate with civil and commercial sectors to evolve satellite, payload, and launch vehicle needs to achieve the most cost-effective and affordable combinations. The U.S. launch industry has similar interests with the U.S. satellite industry in this regard. Both require stable, consistent government policies, common standards, and both benefit from the success of the other.

A closer partnership between DOD and private industry is a smart idea for both parties. The Department of Defense is conducting an important, far-ranging effort to reform defense procurement and manage a downsizing defense industrial base to both cut unnecessary costs and retain crucial industrial capabilities. To the extent the United States has a more commercially competitive space launch industry, this can reduce the costs of national security launches, maintain a skilled work force without using scarce DOD dollars, and even deter the spread of ballistic missile technology that might happen under the guise of commercial ventures.

Thus, the policy recognizes the critical role that the private sector plays in space transportation and sends a strong signal to business that the government wants to pursue our national goals in partnership with industry. The Departments of Transportation and Commerce are specifically tasked with the job of identifying promising approaches for government- industry partnerships and ensuring these opportunities are factored into the NASA and DOD efforts. These Departments will also be responsible for assuring that the needs of the commercial launch sector are taken into account as NASA and DOD implement the policy. The National Science and Technology Council will monitor policy implementation in line with overall policy objectives.

We see many opportunities for innovative arrangements between the public and private sectors. I should add that these arrangements are not the sole province of the Federal government, but that State and local governments are encouraged to participate as well. Local regulatory and tax relief, special trade zones, and State support for commercial space facilities could all be part of innovative arrangements to improve the competitiveness of U.S. space industries.

We believe these activities are only the forerunners of a new era in government-industry cooperation in the space transportation arena. The big payoff will be the design, development, demonstration, and production of low-cost, reusable space transportation systems that not only meet the government's civil and national security needs, but can be fully commercialized and used competitively by the U.S. space launch industry. In this way, the government should become just another customer of a robust, internationally competitive U.S. launch industry.

Let me now address another area where we are breaking new ground. The world has changed dramatically in the last few years. This is no more apparent than in the new relations the United States is forging with Russia as exemplified by its participation in the International Space Station. As a result of changes in the world situation, the U.S. Government will seek to take advantage of foreign know-how and hardware in upgrading U.S. space transportation systems and developing next generation space transportation systems. Such activities will be conducted in a manner consistent with U.S. obligations under the Missile Technology Control Regime and with due consideration given to dependence on foreign sources and national security. Simply put, we want U.S. industry to be able to acquire and apply foreign technology where it is clearly beneficial to improving U.S. space transportation.

I should also make it clear that there has been no change to the long-standing policy that U.S. Government payloads will be launched only on space launch vehicles manufactured in the United States unless exempted by action of the President. The space transportation policy signed by the President specifically directs that U.S. government agencies shall purchase commercially available U.S. space transportation products and services that meet mission requirements to the fullest extent feasible. Furthermore, agencies are not to conduct activities with commercial applications that preclude or deter commercial space activities, except for reasons of national security or public safety.

In that spirit, the Administration's policy also speaks to the use of excess U.S. ballistic missile assets. Such assets that will be decommissioned under the START agreements shall either be retained for government use or destroyed. These assets may be used within the U.S. Government for any purpose except to launch payloads to orbit. Exemptions may be granted on a case-by-case basis when the following conditions are met:

(a) The payload supports the sponsoring agency's mission;

(b) The use of excess ballistic missile assets is consistent with international obligations, including MTCR guidelines and the START agreements; and

(c) The sponsoring agency must certify that such use of excess ballistic missile assets results in a cost savings to the U.S. Government relative to the use of available commercial launch services that would also meet mission requirements, including performance, schedule, and risk.

Thus engineering tests and suborbital flight experiments are allowed, but orbital flights which may compete with private sector providers would have to satisfy some tough criteria.

We believe that these criteria are clear and reasonable and that they provide sufficient flexibility to protect government interests while continuing to encourage private sector investment in new space transportation systems. If converting ballistic missiles to space launch vehicles can be done in a manner that saves money for the government, this policy will still allow us to take advantage of those savings.

Finally, the Administration's space transportation policy addresses the important issue of trade in commercial launch services. The bulk of the policy statement necessarily addresses technology and organizational issues, but a comprehensive approach to space transportation necessarily requires attention to the international marketplace. A company may have the best technology in the world and still be uncompetitive due to unfair trade practices. On the other hand, the fairest rules won't protect a company which does not offer world-class products and services at a competitive price.

In pursuit of free and fair trade, the U.S. Government will seek to negotiate and implement international agreements that define trade principles for commercial space launch services, limit certain types of direct government supports and unfair practices in international markets, and establish criteria regarding participation by space launch industries in countries transitioning from non-market economies.

The United States has entered into a launch trade agreement with Russia and is considering entering into one with China after the current one expires at the end of 1994. We are closely monitoring the Russian agreement and have begun discussions with the Chinese. Let me just say that agreements to which the United States is a party must be in conformity with U.S. obligations under arms control agreements, nonproliferation policies, U.S. technology transfer policies, and U.S. policies regarding observance of the Guidelines and Annex of the Missile Technology Control Regime. Any agreement we enter will have an effective means of enforcement and must not constrain the ability of the United States to take any action consistent with U.S. laws and regulations.

Goals for Effective Implementation

Access to space is important not only to traditional civil, national security, and commercial users, but key to our ability to use space to better understand our environment, to compete in information-driven industries, cooperate with other nations, and ensure public safety. The Administration's policy is both practical in its focus on improving existing ELVs and visionary in laying the basis for next generation reusable space launchers. We have recognized the growing importance of commercial interests and the changed international environment. While recognizing that budget constraints mean that the government is not able to do all that it might like, enhancing the productivity of our space transportation fleet promises to be a high leverage investment.

The Administration's policy on space transportation is a comprehensive one that speaks to a full range of concerns: R&D, acquisition, trade and most importantly, clear agency responsibilities. Effective implementation of the policy will require partnership between government and industry and also within the government: in particular, between Administration and the Congress. I hope we will be able to work closely and effectively together to ensure this nation's space transportation capabilities are second to none.

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