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Space Matters: Sustainability in Space

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Space Matters invites speakers from different backgrounds in the space community to discuss trending space topics. Hosted by Space Foundation, each Space Matters issue:

  • Brings rich and candid discussions with space policy experts
  • Discusses emerging issues and trends across the space community
  • Maintains a routine high-level space policy conversation

The most recent “Space Matters” session held on October 6th, 2022 was built around the theme of World Space Week, which was space and sustainability. Now more than ever, more companies and organizations are gaining access to Earth’s lower orbit. Some of this session’s topics included government funding, industry funding, launch, regulations, and all of the impacts on space sustainability.

Session Speakers

Symposium 365 Speakers
This session’s speakers include the Honorable Bob Walker, former Pennsylvania Congressman and CEO and Founder of Moonwalker Associates, and Carissa Christensen, CEO and Founder of BryceTech. Also speaking is The Honorable James (Jim)  Bridenstine, former NASA Administrator and Oklahoma Congressman and the Senior Advisor for Acorn Growth Companies, and Patricia Cooper, President and Founder of Constellation Advisory.

Operating Under Continuing Resolutions

Patricia kicked off this discussion by mentioning the issue of continuing resolutions, which is nothing new to the space industry. Patricia mentioned that only 3 out of the past 46 congressional sessions have avoided continuing resolutions, so we must learn to live with them. The difference between this year’s continuing resolution and years past is inflation and the ability to lose buying power.

The discussion of inflation during the budgetary progress has created some fear among different agencies. However, Congress has demonstrated care for NASA and its projects, so there is hope.

Bridenstine mentioned that feelings of frustration for continuing resolutions are completely normal because every day spent making appropriations and putting projects on hold puts national security at risk. Bridenstine mentioned that our disadvantage is that our adversaries do not face these regulations and can move far more quickly than the United States

Christensen mentioned another frustrating point for continuing resolutions is the minimization of the value of money that agencies are spending. She shared that it’s compelling to think about how we are in a positive area of growth for space programs. Moving forward, the growth of budgets might be slow but will likely still trend in a positive direction.

“The reality is that ultimately this decision comes down to a few hundred people,” Christensen said. “I certainly would not presume to predict those outcomes […] I will say that looking at programmatic budgets, current plans, and the broader context of our national view of threats that we need to address with space assets, I think there is a sense of urgency on the national security side around space spending.”

Patricia added that there is a stronger sense of how the government can accelerate commercial innovation and investment in space, and that has encouraged the urgency around space debris removal or space situational awareness.

“The government can advance technology or validate it in a larger sense,” Patricia said.

Bridenstine mentioned that in the past the money appropriated to NASA was allowed to be used for space exploration directly, but that is no longer the case with new public-private partnerships and private capital support projects. With this being said, even if the budget isn’t desirable, there is still financial support for these projects.

The appropriations process is tricky, and Bridenstine suggests an open amendment process that would help navigate the obstacles of the congressional budgeting process, such as pages upon pages needing to be reviewed in a short time window.

“Members of Congress need to be more committed to making sure the process is working and less committed to their own personal priorities,” Bridenstine said.

Launch Processes, Vehicles and More

Falcon 9 OverviewChristensen shared a wide influx of new launch vehicles straying away from the typical fall vehicles like Firefly.

“We’re at a point where our large workhorse launch vehicles globally are being replaced with new vehicles,” Christensen said. “The Falcon 9 will now be the old-reliable, proven standard vehicle.”

Christensen shared that dozens of small launch vehicle options emerged in the space ecosystem driven by an investment thesis with hopes of large constellations of small satellites.

Based on what we’ve learned, though, is when launching small satellites it can be more beneficial to do so in large vehicles. According to Christensen, because of this, smaller launch vehicles are looking for a new market, and they have been able to succeed with governments—both internationally and domestically.

The appeal of smaller launch vehicles is their capabilities for science research and security for a reasonable price. Governments now buy commercial launches, according to Christensen.

Patricia added that there is a time crunch for available launch vehicles, and it’s applying pressure on certain satellite constellation launches, and many planned launches haven’t made it into orbit yet.

Christensen mentioned the possibility of trough periods where fewer satellites are being launched, but Bridenstine mentioned that these periods might become non-existent as a new regulation was passed that required satellites to be removed from space after five years in orbit.

What Are Our Speakers Looking Forward to in Q4?

Patricia is eager to pay attention to launches, specifically for the five inaugural launches set for the end of 2022.

Bridenstine is eager to launch SLS, or Space Launch System, which will offer payload capacity as we have never seen before. Christensen shared the same sentiment that the fourth quarter is all about launch.

Orion Splashdown 2“We’ve been waiting a decade for some of these new vehicles. It will be exciting to see them in action,” Christensen said.

As the session concluded, Robert Walker shared that he agreed with the other speakers but wanted to add that we are “in for a heck of a fight in December at the end of this year for the budget position on Capitol Hill.”

Stay Up To Date On Important Space Policy Discussions

Space sustainability is an ever-changing discussion. If you want to stay informed on trending topics in the space community, Symposium365 has various resources available.

Symposium 365 provides ongoing education and conversation about important events, people and projects in the space community. In addition to the “Space Matters” series, Symposium 365 produces valuable programs, including “State of Space” and “Start Here for Space.”

Explore and register for upcoming events here!