It's going to be a brave new world in space

Much has changed in 50 years of spaceflight, but as the world – including the U.S. government – enters a new fiscal era, the way humans and goods travel into space will be forced to undergo major changes, experts say.

Between extensive cuts to government spending, changes in technology and the closure of the U.S.’ traditional space program, those in the space and satellite industries will need to be creative in coming up with solutions to problems the country still faces after budget cuts and the end of NASA’s space shuttle program, according to members of a panel of executives who spoke March 12 at the Satellite 2012 conference in Washington.

“We’re looking at a complete shift in how we do business. We [the government] have always led, and [industry] followed. I think it’s time for those roles to reverse,” said Bruce Bennett, program executive officer for communications at the Defense Information Systems Agency.

According to Bennett, all options for space flight solutions are on the table.

“We’ve always done things the hard way; maybe that’s not the best way,” Bennett said. “We’re open to any strategy. Poverty is going to make for some strange bedfellows. We’re willing to hop into bed.”

Whereas space flight used to be a government institution and originated in a superpower race between the United States and the Soviet Union, it’s now transforming into a commercial industry and international partnerships the government heavily relies on for human space travel, transport and payload hosting.

“Our wisdom now is not to develop the new technologies of space travel. Our wisdom now is to figure out how to integrate these changes into robust, resilient, affordable space systems that can deal with the complex, contested and congested space conditions we find facing us in the future,” said Doug Lovero, executive director of the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

The goal is an industrial enterprise that picks up where NASA left off, providing the space agency with space travel required to support missions that include work on the International Space Station through 2020, according to Philip McAlister, director of commercial space flight development at NASA.

When NASA retired the space shuttle program, “we knew we had to do something different, but we didn’t articulate the need to do things differently,” McAlister said.

McAlister outlined his vision: a non-traditional, commercial human transport program with limited oversight, minimal reporting requirements and shared, lower costs.

He said although the traditional program cost more than $10 billion for a single system, the new approach would use multiple partners and ideally cost less than $6 billion.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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