Space Policy

Space Policy in the United States

In the 1960´s and 1970´s

Space became (an) arena for competition after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik — an artificial satellite — in 1957. Americans were chastened, for the Russians had beaten them into orbit with a rocket that could have easily carried a nuclear bomb. The United States only managed to launch its first satellite, Explorer I, in 1958. The public mood worsened when the Soviets placed the first man in orbit in 1961. Kennedy responded by committing the United States to land a man on the moon and bring him back “before this decade is out.”

With Project Mercury, in August 1962 John H. Glenn Jr. became the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth. In the mid-1960s, U.S. scientists used the Gemini program to examine the effects of prolonged space flight on man. Gemini, Latin for “twins,” carried two astronauts, one more than the earlier Mercury series and one less than subsequent Apollo spacecraft. Gemini achieved several firsts, including an eight-day mission in August 1965 — the longest space flight at that time — and in November 1966, the first automatically controlled reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Gemini also accomplished the first manned linkup of two spacecraft in flight as well as the first U.S. walks in space.

The Apollo project achieved Kennedy’s goal. In July 1969, with hundreds of millions of television viewers watching around the world, Neil A. Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.

Other Apollo flights followed, but many Americans began to question the value of manned space flight. In the early 1970s, as other priorities became more pressing, the United States scaled down the space program. Some Apollo missions were scrapped; only one of two proposed Skylab space stations was built.

Under the Obama Administration

On June 28, 2010, President Obama issued a National Space Policy directive providing comprehensive guidance for all government activities in space, including the commercial, civil, and national security space sectors. The new policy leans farther forward in support of U.S. business interests than any previous space policy.

The principles section of the policy states, “The United States is committed to encouraging and facilitating the growth of a U.S. commercial space sector that supports U.S. needs, is globally competitive, and advances U.S. leadership in the generation of new markets and innovation-driven entrepreneurship.”

The first of the six stated policy goals is to “Energize competitive domestic industries to participate in global markets and advance the development of: satellite manufacturing; satellite-based services; space launch; terrestrial applications; and increased entrepreneurship.” (1)

Commercial Space Guidelines

The policy includes a set of Commercial Space Guidelines directing the U.S. Government to:

  • Purchase and use commercial space capabilities and services to the maximum practical extent when such capabilities and services are available in the marketplace and meet United States Government requirements;
  • Modify commercial space capabilities and services to meet government requirements when existing commercial capabilities and services do not fully meet these requirements and the potential modification represents a more cost-effective and timely acquisition approach for the government;
  • Actively explore the use of inventive, nontraditional arrangements for acquiring commercial space goods and services to meet United States Government requirements, including measures such as public-private partnerships, hosting government capabilities on commercial spacecraft, and purchasing scientific or operational data products from commercial satellite operators in support of government missions;
  • Develop governmental space systems only when it is in the national interest and there is no suitable, cost-effective U.S. commercial or, as appropriate, foreign commercial service or system that is or will be available;
  • Refrain from conducting United States Government space activities that preclude, discourage, or compete with U.S. commercial space activities, unless required by national security or public safety;
  • Pursue potential opportunities for transferring routine, operational space functions to the commercial space sector where beneficial and cost-effective, except where the government has legal, security, or safety needs that would preclude commercialization;
  • Cultivate increased technological innovation and entrepreneurship in the commercial space sector through the use of incentives such as prizes and competitions;
  • Ensure that United States Government space technology and infrastructure are made available for commercial use on a reimbursable, noninterference, and equitable basis to the maximum practical extent;
  • 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;
  • Foster fair and open global trade and commerce through the promotion of suitable standards and regulations that have been
    developed with input from U.S. industry;
  • Encourage the purchase and use of U.S. commercial space services and capabilities in international cooperative arrangements; and
  • 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.

The guidelines define “commercial” space as referring to goods, services, or activities provided by private sector enterprises that bear a reasonable portion of the investment risk and responsibility for the activity, operate in accordance with typical market-based incentives for controlling cost and optimizing return on investment, and have the legal capacity to offer these goods or services to existing or potential nongovernmental customers.

Other Relevant Provisions

In addition to the Commercial Space Guidelines, the National Space Policy includes various other provisions affecting space commerce. These include:

  • Direction for NASA to seek partnerships with the private sector to enable safe, reliable, and cost-effective commercial spaceflight capabilities and services for the transport of crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station;
  • Direction in the international cooperation section to facilitate new market opportunities for U.S. commercial space capabilities and services, including commercially viable terrestrial applications that rely on government-provided space systems;
  • Direction in the export policy section to enhance the competitiveness of the U.S. space industrial base while also addressing national security needs;
  • Direction to develop, maintain, and retain skilled space professionals in government and commercial workforces;
  • Recognition of hosted payload arrangements in guidance addressing assured access to space;
  • Recognition of commercial sources and users in guidance addressing space situational awareness, orbital tracking information, and near-Earth object detection;
  • Recognition of U.S. commercial space users in guidance addressing radiofrequency spectrum and interference protection;
  • Reaffirmation that civil GPS access will remain continuous, worldwide, and free of direct user charges;
  • Restatement of NOAA’s role in licensing commercial remote sensing systems;

Functional Space Policies

The 2010 National Space Policy replaces several space policies from previous administrations but retains the following ones.

President Obama updated the National Space Transportation Policy in November 2013 (see below).

U.S. Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Policy

On December 8, 2004, President George W. Bush signed the U.S. Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Policy. The policy establishes the national management structure for GPS and extends longstanding U.S. commitments to provide worldwide, free civilian access to GPS.

U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Space Policy

On April 25, 2003, President George W. Bush signed the U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Space Policy (CRSSP). The policy remains in effect today.

The policy directs the U.S. government to rely on commercial remote sensing space capabilities to the maximum practical extent, and to develop a long-term, sustainable relationship with the U.S. commercial remote sensing space industry.

The policy also directs the government to enable U.S. industry to compete successfully as a provider of remote sensing space capabilities for foreign governments and foreign commercial users, while ensuring appropriate measures are implemented to protect national security and foreign policy.

The policy directs the government to provide a timely and responsive regulatory environment for licensing the operations and exports of commercial remote sensing space systems. The Secretary of Commerce is authorized by statute to license commercial remote sensing satellite operations, and this authority has been delegated to NOAA’s Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) Office.

Space Transportation Policy

On November 21, 2013, President Obama issued an updated National Space Transportation Policy providing guidance to federal departments and agencies on the development and use of commercial and governmental space transportation systems.

The overarching goal of the policy is to have assured access to diverse regions of space, from suborbital to Earth’s orbit and deep space, in support of civil and national security missions.

To further this goal, the policy prescribes actions aimed at improving U.S. launch industry robustness, cost effectiveness, innovation, entrepreneurship, and international competitiveness.

Commercial Space Guidelines

The National Space Transportation Policy includes guidance applicable to the civil, national security, and commercial space transportation sectors. The commercial space section reiterates the pro-business direction previously issued in the National Space Policy and adds new guidance to federal agencies, including:

  • Facilitate multiple U.S. commercial providers of space transportation services across a range of launch vehicle classes;
  • Maximize availability of government space transportation technologies, capabilities, and facilities for non-federal use on a reimbursable, noninterference, equitable, and predictable basis;
  • Cultivate increased technological innovation and entrepreneurship through incentives such as nontraditional acquisition arrangements, competition, and prizes;
  • Encourage the purchase and use of U.S. commercial space transportation services and capabilities in international trade and cooperative government activities;
  • Facilitate U.S. commercial industry access to available public data and lessons learned related to human space flight; and
  • Pursue policy, regulatory, and other measures to foster the development of U.S. commercial spaceflight capabilities serving the emerging commercial human spaceflight market.

The policy directs the Departments of Commerce and Transportation to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial space transportation activities, including human spaceflight.

Commercial Human Spaceflight

The National Space Transportation Policy recognizes the significance of commercial human spaceflight activity, adding two new goal statements in this area. It codifies NASA’s ongoing commercial crew and cargo program, which is establishing a competitive domestic market for transport to and from the International Space Station.

In addition to the relevant commercial guidelines cited above, the policy directs FAA to work with NASA on a comprehensive safety regime for human spaceflight, covering both governmental and commercial activities with minimal regulatory overlap.

Hosted Payload Arrangements

The National Space Transportation Policy recognizes the growing opportunities to fly government missions as hosted payloads on commercial satellites. It directs federal agencies to actively explore hosted payloads and other ride-sharing arrangements when planning space missions.

The policy facilitates the government’s utilization of hosted payloads by providing departments and agencies additional discretionary authorities to consider launches on non-U.S.-manufactured space launch vehicles.

Industrial Base

The policy directs agencies to consider the health of the space transportation industrial base when making policy and programmatic decisions. It encourages innovative acquisition approaches that promote affordability, industry planning, and competitive capabilities, infrastructure, and workforce.

The policy directs NASA and the Department of Defense to rely upon U.S.-manufactured space transportation vehicles as the foundation for access to space. It encourages unique acquisition approaches, which will promote competition, stabilize supply chains, and realize economies of scale.

New Entrant Certification

The policy codifies the plan to enable new U.S. commercial space launch providers to compete for U.S. government missions on a level playing field so long as they meet technical criteria for certification.

Launch Ranges

The policy directs enhancements to the operational efficiency, capacity, responsiveness, and cost effectiveness of federal space launch infrastructure. It calls for consultations with industry to seek to improve launch range scheduling procedures and practices. The updated text also recognizes the need to work with commercial, state, and local spaceports.

Orbital Debris

The policy declares that the Department of Transportation has exclusive authority to address orbital debris mitigation practices for U.S.-licensed commercial launches.

Excess Ballistic Missiles

The 2013 policy reaffirms longstanding guidance and laws on the use of excess intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as launch vehicles. The New START Treaty for nuclear disarmanent allows the use of excess ICBMs as satellite launchers, but the United States restricts such use so as to minimize competitive impacts on U.S. commercial firms with comparable launch capabilities.

National Space Policy

Released in 2010, the also emphasizes the importance of assuring U.S. access to space. The policy directs U.S. agencies to:

  • Work jointly to acquire space launch services and hosted payload arrangements that are reliable, responsive to U.S. Government needs, and cost-effective;
  • Enhance operational efficiency, increase capacity, and reduce launch costs by investing in the modernization of space launch infrastructure; and
  • Develop launch systems and technologies necessary to assure and sustain future reliable and efficient access to space, in cooperation with U.S. industry, when sufficient U.S. commercial capabilities and services do not exist.

The policy also directs NASA to seek partnerships with the private sector to enable safe, reliable, and cost-effective commercial spaceflight capabilities and services for the transport of crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station.


Notes and References

  1. ”An Outline of American History”(1994), a publication of the United States Information Agency (USIA). Editor: Howard Cincotta

Space Policy: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Space Policy. This part provides references, in relation to Space Policy, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Space Policy by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Space Policy and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Space Policy or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Space Policy and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Space Policy. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Space Policy should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Space Policy when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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