Aldrin, Hsu and Cox: a "Vision for Space Development" is needed

In a draft paper posted at the NSS blog, Buzz Aldrin and other members of the Aerospace Technology Working Group take on NASA's current direction, and propose substantial reforms in US space policy. Interestingly, their proposals seem not entirely unlike what I recommended to the Space Studies Board recently, in answer to their request for comments on the rationale and goals of US space efforts. NewScientist did a substantive review of Aldrin's proposal, with some positive comments, but also quoting Lou Friedman of the Planetary Society's criticism that "I don't know that rearranging the federal bureaucracy is the solution to any problem NASA is encountering right now."

The draft paper goes into a lot more detail than I did (it could also use some significant editing for grammar and repetition), but has additionally one recommendation I'm not so sure on - creating a new Department of Space, to provide cabinet-level oversight of a "unified vision" for space exploration and development. Jeff Krukin expresses his thoughts against this idea, and I have to mainly agree - I did just endorse doing away with the Department of Commerce after all, so I feel hardly inclined to add another new department!

But the most important thing about this proposal, for me, is the idea of distinguishing Space Exploration (NASA's job), from Space Development. With a clearer focus on exploration and frontier-work, NASA can better know its mission and do its job. The Space Development side is covered most comprehensively in points 6. and 7. of the draft, to "Propel Humanity’s Outward Expansion into Space-based Economic Frontiers", and "A New Space Economy with a Transformed Global Collaborative Paradigm". The list of development areas seems reasonable:

  • space transportation infrastructure development, including:
    • development of reusable launch vehicles, such as crew & cargo transport and launch vehicle systems
    • international Fuel-Depot and Orbital Staging or Service point (station) in the LEO environment
    • space port infrastructure development in the U.S. and around the globe
  • observation, tracking, and deflecting capabilities for planetary defense
  • space-based solar power (SBSP) research and development

On that last item, I've been meaning to post this news item on (yet another?) company hoping to build a solar power satellite - Space Energy thinks they can do it by 2017 or so, with a demonstrator up some time around 2012. If they can raise sufficient investment capital to do that, more power to them! But I suspect it will take significant government work, particularly along the lines of this Space Development Vision proposal, to make it actually practical. Space launch costs still have a long way to go.