Use Competition to Bridge the Gap in Human Spaceflight

by on October 31, 2008 · 4 comments

As TLF readers may know, I took over in July as Chairman of the Board of the Space Frontier Foundation.  As I explained in my recent interview on The Space Show, SFF has been the leading citizens’ advocacy group for space commercialization since 1988.  Dedicated to promoting Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill‘s vision of space settlement, as described in his 1976 masterpiece The High Frontier, the Foundation has always argued that “space is a place, not a program.”

We sent out the following press release on October 28, calling for a major transformation of the U.S. government’s space program by which the U.S. government would buy commercial transportation to the International Space Station.  We’ll have more to say about this in the coming weeks.

Space Frontier Foundation Finds Funding Source for COTS-D

The Space Frontier Foundation today called upon Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain to invest the $2 billion in new funds they have promised to NASA for reducing the “Gap” in U.S. human spaceflight (after the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010) to spur innovation and competition in America.

Foundation Chairman Berin Szoka said “It’s time that our national leaders give American entrepreneurs a shot at closing this gap. Let’s take the two billion dollars in the candidates’ plans and fund up to five winners of COTS-D.”

The NASA Authorization Act of 2008, recently signed into law by the President, directs NASA to “issue a notice of intent [by mid-April 2009] … to enter into a funded, competitively awarded Space Act Agreement with two or more commercial entities’ for transporting humans to the ISS”-the “Capability D” of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program (or COTS-D for short). But that directive is not yet funded.

Szoka continued, “Let’s have an American competition in space – to create good jobs, fuel innovation, and close the gap more quickly. With private funds matching government’s investment, we can dramatically leverage the $2 billion to produce breakthroughs in a new American industry – commercial orbital human spaceflight.”

By investing in several different approaches, the government will win no matter who wins this new race, and also benefit from the resulting price competition.

Many American companies, including Boeing, PlanetSpace, SpaceDev, SpaceX, and t/Space have each previously submitted credible COTS-D proposals to NASA. Each of these firms has reached the semi-finals of one of the previous NASA COTS competitions. Increasing funding for COTS by $2 billion would allow NASA to fund all five of these promising companies’ proposals with COTS agreements, and in so doing, build redundancy into the human spaceflight capability available to NASA and other customers.

“It’s popular in Washington to use ‘The Gap’ to cynically justify continued funding of an expensive jobs program,” concluded the Foundation’s co-founder, Bob Werb. “We’re using ‘The Gap’ to advocate a policy that will bridge a gap that matters much more: the chasm between a dying government Human spaceflight monopoly and an emerging, free and competitive marketplace that can open the space frontier to everyone.”

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