Jeff O’Neil, Legislative Assistant to US Congressman Ed Perlmutter

Congressman Ed Perlmutter (Colorado) is a staunch advocate of space development and, notably, space exploration. He is a vocal proponent of Mars exploration and is leading a quest for human travel to Mars to take place in 2033 – a year in which planetary alignment would make the trip significantly shorter.

Congressman Perlmutter has a long record of fighting for the space sector and space programmes. When the Constellation programme was shelved, he spearheaded efforts to ensure the survival of Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle, whose prime contractor is Lockheed Martin, a company with a strong presence in Colorado. He has also been active on regulatory issues, where the main preoccupation is that regulations meet the standards needed to keep up with industry development and that industry has the necessary legal certainty to conduct their businesses.

In Jeff’s opinion “commercial space” is a misnomer. U.S. space manufacturing companies are all commercial. However, most of these companies have traditionally done most of their work under federal government contracts. Therefore, speak of commercial space does not necessarily convey a clear idea of what is it that the expression actually refers to.

Clearly government investment in ISS – be it cargo or crew space transportation – is a powerhouse that enables the space companies growth. In Jeff’s opinion, Space X is no more commercial than Lockheed Martin or Boeing which have been traditional contractors for NASA. If dependence on federal government funding is what defines whether a space activity is commercial, there are companies that may be considered as more truly “commercial” than those mentioned before.

When looking into space activities one has to recognise that there are very different types of industries. Launcher industry is very specific and likely to remain closely connected to Federal government funding. Companies that seek to develop exclusively or primarily commercial business models, i.e. companies whose existence is not determined by or dependent on government funding, are in a different category. These companies are confronted with a different set of issues than those for which government funding is an essential lifeline. It may be necessary to see if there is a need for regulatory adaptations to cater for those differences.

The expression “commercial space” is too broad. It would be perhaps more precise to look into what has changed in the way space business and activities are being conducted. For example, NASA’s Milestones approach is a novel way of engaging with industry and is proving to be quite effective in both stimulating competition in the space sector and in containing costs.

Security is a key consideration that determines how the US deals with pace activities. The U.S. Congress consciously supports civil space activities not only for scientific or economic reasons but also to address security concerns, notably the need to maintain a healthy space industrial base and launcher domestic capability.

While adaptations may be necessary, Jeff believes that there will not be dramatic changes in U.S. Space Policy in the near future; given the changes in policy and regulatory framework for space activities in recent years, stability is necessary to see how programmes and sector evolve.

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