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Trump Space Policy Will Increase Role of Private Companies

NASA's Orion Spacecraft Launches Unmanned Test FlightNASA's Orion Spacecraft Launches Unmanned Test Flight
The United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft takes off from its launchpad on December 5, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photograph by Joe Raedle via Getty Images

In the runup to the November 9th U.S. Presidential election, the finer details of each candidates’ policy positions were rather lost in the heat of battle. But they were out there, even down to Donald Trump’s agenda for space exploration, which was outlined in two October op-eds by Trump senior policy advisors Robert S. Walker and Peter Navarro.

In broad terms, the Trump plan would make space a friendlier place for private operators, such as SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace, expanding on public-private partnerships fostered by the Obama administration. Trump would substantially cut or redirect funding for NASA’s earth science initiatives, including climate monitoring, while beefing up U.S. defenses against foreign attempts to degrade American intelligence satellites.

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“Government,” Walker and Navarro write, “Must recognize that space is no longer the province of governments alone.” While companies like SpaceX have had an increased role as NASA contractors in operations like resupplying the International Space Station, the Trump plan would potentially go much further, turning low earth orbit into a commercial environment, and inviting more private collaboration on the International Space Station.

Walker and Navarro go out of their way to praise SpaceX in particular, describing it not only as a “vibrant company,” but as “committed to a Made in America policy” that they say ultimately benefits the middle class.

Even major heavy-lift rocket projects, like NASA’s Mars-oriented Orion and SLS systems, could become more collaborative with private programs like SpaceX’s. Speaking to The Verge, Walker said the government should explore whether “those commercial assets could be used to [NASA’s] benefit,” as part of a broader push to eliminate spending redundancies.

For more on commercial space, watch our video.

On the defense front, Walker and Navarro highlight the military’s increased reliance on things like GPS, communication and spy satellites—which China and Russia have been developing the ability to attack. They propose, in part, to transition military functions to swarms of micro-satellites, which they say would be harder to attack, and could be robotically serviced in orbit.

The Trump plan also includes the ambitious goal of achieving human exploration of the entire solar system by the end of the century. All of these would be coordinated by a revived National Space Council, a central organizing body which would be overseen by Vice President-Elect Mike Pence.