There are many meaningful space policy options for a Biden administration. I recommend focusing on enabling and creating space infrastructure in Earth Orbit for commercial development. Making this the primary goal of the U.S. civil space program will have major impacts on the U.S. economy and U.S. space leadership.
Earth Orbit Commercial Development is Already Demonstrated
Earth Orbit Expansion Is an Untapped Market
In just the space station market, the Science Technology Policy Institute determined that there were private markets worth somewhere between $455 Million and $1.18 Billion. That does not include potential national needs of space stations and other space infrastructure hardware. U. S. companies like Axiom Space and Sierra Nevada Corporation are interested in building space stations to service this market.
Other countries are already considering their own space stations, and how they might service this largely untapped market. The nearest example is China. They’ve already developed much of their technology with their space stations Tiangong 1 and 2, and are moving to a larger space station (currently unnamed) to service this industry. The first piece of this space station is currently scheduled to launch in the next two years.
Commercial Crew Shows the Way
On May 30, 2020, astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken launched from America on a U.S. commercial launch vehicle. This was the culmination of the Commercial Crew program, started by President Obama. By using a public private partnership model, NASA developed two human spacecrafts for only $6 Billion dollars, while NASA estimates for going a more traditional route would have cost approximately $30 Billion dollars. This means the Commercial Crew program saved the U.S. taxpayer $24 Billion dollars, while bringing launch costs down, and expanding America’s launch industry.
The Biden Administration Should Invest in a Commercial Earth Orbit Development Program
This same model could be used to develop commercial Earth Orbit infrastructure, starting with commercial space stations. NASA currently has a program designed to enable this infrastructure. However, Congress only funded $15 Million for this program. Properly funded, the program would need at least $1 Billion over four years. If the U.S. leverages these funds using a public-private partnership model similar to the Commercial Crew model, the U.S. could have at least two new space stations available for use by both the government and the private sector.
With a little encouragement, the U.S. could create another major sphere of economic growth, much like it has for the creation of the internet. New resources and new businesses and industries would come to fruition, helping lift people out of poverty, and provide new ways to address major challenges we face as a nation. Therefore, it should be the primary goal of a Biden Administration’s civil human space policy to create a self-sustaining Earth Orbit marketplace, before the end of the 2020s.
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