The Obama administration this week unveiled a new space policy that calls for more investment in advanced technologies from the aerospace industry so the United States can compete better globally.
The plan, unveiled Monday, also increases the program's focus on using space technology to study and monitor global climate change and the environment. This move was expected after NASA in April said that playing a stronger role in environmental research was part of a new agency roadmap that anticipated the end of the space shuttle program later this year.
According to the plan, the federal government will actively promote using domestic technology and services for space-related research and development as a way to bolster U.S. industry, as long as it does not interfere with international cooperative agreements.
The policy also calls for NASA to seek partnerships with the private sector to develop new technologies for human space travel beyond Earth, including commercial spaceflights to the International Space Station. The administration hopes to send people to new space destinations by 2025.
Maintaining current leadership in space technology also is a key goal for the policy. The U.S. should continue to lead in servicing, provisioning, and using global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) by providing continuous worldwide access for peaceful purposes to the GPS free of charge. The policy also calls for the United States to work with foreign GNSS providers to encourage compatibility and interoperability.
Even as the administration wants the United States to lead the world in space-related programs, the policy also calls for more international cooperation that reverses the go-it-alone approach the Bush administration took.
The United States should identify potential areas for international cooperation in the realms of space science and space exploration, including human space-flight activities, according to the policy. The administration also wants to collaborate with other countries to research space nuclear power to support space-science efforts.
Other points of collaboration the policy calls for include: Earth science and observation; environmental monitoring; satellite communications; geospatial information products and services; disaster mitigation and relief; and long-term preservation of the space environment for human activity and use.
On the environmental front, NASA already has stepped up efforts through recent work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to contain the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf. NASA has been using infrared imaging, satellite, and computer modeling technology to monitor the oil slick that resulted from the April 20 disaster.
Some of that same technology also has been used to monitor earthquakes and their effect on the Earth and its oceans. In February the agency successfully predicted the size of a tsunami that resulted after a major earthquake in Chile.