CRS Report: U.S. Space Programs: Civilian, Military, and Commercial (part 2)


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Commercial Space Programs

Civilian communications satellites have been chiefly a private sector activity since passage of the 1962 Communications Satellite Act (P.L. 87-624). Attempts to commercialize other aspects of space activities have yielded mixed success. Congress has passed several laws to facilitate the commercialization of space launch services for putting satellites into orbit (the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act, the 1988 Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments, and the 1998 Commercial Space Act). The development of a U.S. commercial launch services industry has been largely successful. DOD and NASA continue to play a strong role in developing new launch vehicles, though private companies are partnering with the government or developing their own. The most controversial issues are the relative roles of the government versus the private sector in developing new systems, ensuring that U.S. companies can compete with foreign launch services companies, and trade and missile proliferation issues involved in exporting satellites to other countries for launch. See CRS Issue Brief IB93062.

Congress also sought to facilitate commercialization of land remote sensing satellites by privatizing the government's Landsat program through the 1984 Land Remote Sensing Commercialization Act ( P.L. 98-365). Such satellites provide imagery of the Earth that can be used for land-use planning, environmental studies, mineral exploration, and many other uses. After a tumultuous 8 years that saw the effort to privatize Landsat fail, Congress repealed that Act and replaced it with the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-555), bringing Landsat back under government sponsorship. Landsat 5 and 7, built by and operated by the government, are now in orbit (Landsat 7's imagery is unusable at the moment because of a technical problem). The Act also promoted development of new systems by the private sector. Coupled with a 1994 Clinton Administration policy, these actions led several U.S. companies to initiate programs to build remote sensing satellites and offer imagery on a commercial basis. Those companies must obtain an operating license from NOAA for such systems. The first successful launch of a commercial imaging satellite, Space Imaging's Ikonos 2, was achieved in September 1999. The market for commercial satellite remote sensing products continues to be limited, however, and U.S. companies reportedly are struggling to remain in business. Partially in response to that concern, President Bush signed a new commercial remote sensing policy on April 25, 2003 [http://www.ostp.gov/html/new.html] that is intended to maintain the nation's leadership in remote sensing space activities and sustain and enhance the U.S. remote sensing industry. The Bush policy encourages companies to build and operate commercial remote sensing satellite systems that are superior to current or planned foreign systems, subject to government regulation, and possible additional controls and safeguards if the U.S. government is a user (e.g. satellite, ground station, and communications link protection measures to ensure the U.S. Government can rely on the systems).

Controversy over the fact that the imagery has military as well as civilian uses complicates this commercial space effort, however. Though not as precise as military reconnaissance satellites, two operating U.S. private sector satellites, Ikonos 2 (owned by Space Imaging) and QuickBird (owned by DigitalGlobe), produce imagery with 1 meter and 0.6 meter resolution (the ability to "see" an object or feature of a certain size), respectively. Commercial satellites with even better resolution are expected. Competitors to U.S. commercial satellite imaging companies include French, Russian, Indian, and Israeli companies that offer imagery with 2.5-meter, 1-meter, 1-meter, and 1.8-meter resolution respectively. One major issue is when the government can exercise "shutter control," forcing companies to discontinue obtaining or distributing imagery of certain parts of the world in times of crisis. DOD took a different approach to controlling access to imagery when the United States initiated attacks in Afghanistan. For two months, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) bought exclusive rights to Ikonos imagery of that area from Space Imaging so that no one else could use the data without NIMA's approval. The practice was dubbed "checkbook shutter control" in the media. Some groups complained that the media and relief agencies need that data, too. The government apparently did not limit access to commercial satellite imagery during the Iraqi war. Another issue is the government's role in controlling to whom the imagery is sold and which countries may invest in the U.S.-owned systems. U.S. companies want time limits on how long the government can take to decide whether particular sales or investments will be permitted so they can make wise business decisions. Under the 1992 Landsat Act, the Commerce Department has 120 days to accept or reject license applications. However, Commerce must consult with other agencies, including the Departments of State and Defense, and those departments have no time limits. The new Bush policy states that the government will provide a timely and responsive regulatory environment.

Special issues have arisen regarding Israel. On October 7, 1994, Senator Bingaman and 63 other Senators sent a letter to the Secretary of Commerce expressing concern that data from Eyeglass (subsequently renamed Orbview) that could be used against Israel would be made available to Saudi Arabia, which was providing partial financing for the system and would be the location of a ground station. The FY1997 DOD authorization bill (P.L. 104-201) prohibits collection and release, or U.S. government declassification, of satellite imagery of Israel unless such imagery is no more detailed or precise than what is available from commercial sources.

Potential availability of commercial imagery also has a positive side for the military, since the U.S. military and intelligence communities could reduce costs by acquiring imagery commercially instead of building their own systems for some purposes. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have strongly encouraged NIMA to purchase commercial imagery to augment classified imagery. The January 2001 report of the Independent Commission on NIMA (see Military Space Issues) strongly endorsed NIMA acquisition of commercial imagery, and supported the proposal to allow private sector companies to build satellites with half-meter resolution. The 2003 Bush policy directs the U.S. government to utilize U.S. commercial remote sensing space capabilities, for both civil and national security purposes, to the maximum extent practicable. Foreign commercial remote sensing space capabilities may be used consistent with national security and foreign policy objectives. (See below for more on NIMA's use of commercial imagery.)

Other potential commercial space activities are microgravity materials processing (making products such as purer pharmaceuticals by utilizing the microgravity conditions in space), space tourism, and space facilities such as Spacehab's modules that fly inside the space shuttle's cargo bay for scientific experiments or carrying cargo.

Military Space Programs

The creation of NASA was a deliberate step by President Eisenhower to separate military and civilian space activities. Among other things, he wanted to stress that the United States was interested in the peaceful uses of space, but recognized that space had military applications as well. The 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act specified that military space activities be conducted by the Department of Defense (DOD). The intelligence community (coordinated by the Director of Central Intelligence) makes significant use of space-based intelligence collection capabilities, and participates in managing satellite reconnaissance programs through the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), an agency within DOD. NRO builds and operates intelligence collection satellites, and collects and processes the resulting data. The data are provided to users such as NIMA and the National Security Agency (NSA). The Undersecretary of the Air Force is the Director of NRO, the Air Force acquisition executive for space, and DOD's executive agent for space.

DOD and the intelligence community manage a broad array of space activities, including launch vehicle development, communications satellites, navigation satellites (the Global Positioning System - GPS), early warning satellites to alert the United States to foreign missile launches, weather satellites, reconnaissance satellites, and developing capabilities to protect U.S. satellite systems and to deny the use of space to adversaries (called "space control" or "counterspace systems"). The 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War is dubbed by some as the first "space war" because support from space displayed great improvement over what was available during the previous major conflict, Vietnam. These systems continue to play significant roles in U.S. military operations, including the 2003 Iraqi war and the war against terrorism.

The Bush Administration abolished U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) in 2002 when it reorganized the unified command structure largely in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. USSPACECOM was created in 1985 as a unified command to oversee space operations. The Commander of USSPACECOM was also the Commander of the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense long the government can take to decide whether particular sales or investments will be permitted so they can make wise business decisions. Under the 1992 Landsat Act, the Commerce Department has 120 days to accept or reject license applications. However, Commerce must consult with other agencies, including the Departments of State and Defense, and those departments have no time limits. The new Bush policy states that the government will provide a timely and responsive regulatory environment. Special issues have arisen regarding Israel. On October 7, 1994, Senator Bingaman and 63 other Senators sent a letter to the Secretary of Commerce expressing concern that data from Eyeglass (subsequently renamed Orbview) that could be used against Israel would be made available to Saudi Arabia, which was providing partial financing for the system and would be the location of a ground station. The FY1997 DOD authorization bill (P.L. 104-201) prohibits collection and release, or U.S. government declassification, of satellite imagery of Israel unless such imagery is no more detailed or precise than what is available from commercial sources.

Potential availability of commercial imagery also has a positive side for the military, since the U.S. military and intelligence communities could reduce costs by acquiring imagery commercially instead of building their own systems for some purposes. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have strongly encouraged NIMA to purchase commercial imagery to augment classified imagery. The January 2001 report of the Independent Commission on NIMA (see Military Space Issues) strongly endorsed NIMA acquisition of commercial imagery, and supported the proposal to allow private sector companies to build satellites with half-meter resolution. The 2003 Bush policy directs the U.S. government to utilize U.S. commercial remote sensing space capabilities, for both civil and national securityCommand (NORAD). On October 1, 2002, a new Northern Command was created for homeland defense, and its Commander assumed command of NORAD. USSPACECOM was merged with U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), which is now responsible for early warning of, and defense against, missile attacks and long range conventional attacks. USSTRATCOM has three space components: Army Space Command, Naval Space Command, and Space Air Force (the 14th Air Force, headquartered at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA). Air Force Space Command is a major Air Force command headquartered at Peterson AFB, CO.

How to organize DOD and the intelligence community to work effectively on space matters has been an issue for several years. In three separate FY2000 funding bills, Congress established commissions to review the NRO (in the FY2000 intelligence authorization act, P.L. 106-120); NIMA (in the classified annex to the FY2000 DOD appropriations act, P.L. 106-79); and overall U.S. national security space management and organization (in the FY2000 DOD authorization act, P.L. 106-65). The NRO, NIMA, and "Space Commission" reports are discussed below.

Although U.S. military and civilian space programs are separated organizationally, the functions performed by satellites and the vehicles that launch them are not easily divided. Both sectors use communications, navigation, weather, and remote sensing/reconnaissance satellites, which may operate at different frequencies or have different capabilities, but have similar technology. The same launch vehicles can be used to launch any type of military, civilian, or commercial satellite. DOD uses some civilian satellites and vice versa.

DOD and NASA both develop space launch vehicles. The Delta, Atlas, and Titan launch vehicles were all initially developed by DOD, while NASA developed Scout and Saturn (both no longer produced), and the space shuttle. All except the shuttle are "expendable launch vehicles" (ELVs) that can only be used once (the shuttle is reusable). An August 1994 Clinton Administration policy gave DOD responsibility for maintaining and upgrading the ELV fleet, while NASA maintains the shuttle and develops new reusable launch technology. Some expect that a space policy review now underway (see below) will modify that policy.

After the Cold War ended, DOD and congressional interest in space weapons, both those to attack other satellites (antisatellite, or ASAT, weapons) and weapons based in space to attack ballistic missiles, declined initially, but was rekindled beginning with the 104th Congress. Using satellites to attack ballistic missiles has been controversial since President Reagan's 1983 announcement of a Strategic Defense Initiative to study the viability of building a ballistic missile defense system to protect the United States and its allies. The Clinton Administration changed the name of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) to reflect a new focus on theater missile defense in the wake of the Persian Gulf War, rather than national missile defense. The Bush Administration changed the name to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to reflect its interest in broad missile defense goals (see CRS Report RL31111). The concept of placing weapons in space as part of a missile defense system remains controversial. Whether missile defense weapons ultimately are based in space or on the ground, a missile defense system would require satellites for early warning, communications, and other functions.

Interagency Coordination

Several mechanisms have been tried since 1958 to coordinate interagency space policy. Dissatisfied with the Reagan Administration's approach of using a Senior Interagency Group (SIG/Space) under the National Security Council (NSC), in the FY1989 NASA authorization act (P.L. 100-685), Congress re-created the National Space Council. The original council, which included aeronautics, was created in the 1958 Space Act, and abolished by President Nixon in 1973. Under President George H. W. Bush, the Space Council was headed by Vice President Quayle. President Clinton decided to merge the Space Council functions into a National Science and Technology Council, administered through the Office of Science and

Technology Policy. It oversaw civil and commercial space policy; while military space activities were overseen by the National Security Council. The Space Council still exists in law, but it is not staffed or funded. Some space advocates hoped President George W. Bush would reactivate the Space Council, but a mechanism called a Policy Coordinating Committee under the National Security Council (similar to SIG/Space) was chosen instead. On July 28, 2002, in NSPD-15, President Bush directed the NSC to chair a review of national space policies. The first, on commercial remote sensing, was signed April 25, 2003. Two others, on launch vehicles and overall national space policy, are pending. According to press reports and discussion at a House Science Committee hearing on September 10, 2003, an interagency process also is underway to develop long term plans for the space program.

International Cooperation and Competition

Virtually every country in the world uses satellites for communications and obtaining weather data, but the usual measure of whether a country is a member of the "space-faring" club is its ability to launch satellites. By that criterion, Russia, the United States, China, Japan, India, Israel, Ukraine, and the European Space Agency (ESA) are members. ESA developed the Ariane launch vehicle; Ariane launches are conducted by the French company Arianespace. These countries, including many of the individual members of ESA, present opportunities for cooperation in space, as well as competition. The 15 members of ESA are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The NASA Act specifically states that NASA may conduct international space activities. Most NASA programs today have an international component. One of the major cooperative projects today is the space station (see CRS Issue Brief IB93017). European countries, both individually and through ESA, Canada, and Japan, in particular, have participated in many cooperative space programs with NASA. They also compete with U.S. companies in some space areas. Europe, India, Ukraine, and Russia compete in launch services for placing satellites into orbit. France, Russia, India and Israel compete in satellite remote sensing, and Europe competes in communications satellite manufacturing.

Cooperation and competition between the United States and the former Soviet Union attracted much attention. Competition with the Soviet Union was measured less in economic terms than in prestige and national defense. The main area of competition today seems to be on the economic front, although Russian and Ukrainian companies have joint ventures with U.S. firms to provide launch services, so economic cooperation also exists.

NASA and DOD Space Budgets

The majority of U.S. government space funding goes to NASA and DOD. This table shows NASA and DOD space funding, but must be used cautiously. Tracking the DOD space budget is difficult since space is not specifically identified as a line item in the DOD budget. OMB and GAO provided CRS with DOD space funding figures through FY1995 including funding for both unclassified and classified DOD space programs. However, in 1996, the Director of Central Intelligence decided for the first time to classify the NRO funding figure so total figures for DOD space spending were not available for more than a year. In the summer of 1997, the Administration finally released a number for the total DOD FY1996 space budget, $11.5 billion, but at the same time revised numbers downward for FY1992-1995 without explanation. This table uses data in the FY2000 Aeronautics and Space Report of the President (released in 2002), with additional data from NASA's FY2004 budget estimate (including out-year projections), and from DOD for FY2000-2003 DOD space spending figures and out-year projections. DOD's space budget for FY2002 was $15.7 billion, for FY2003 is $18.4 billion, and the FY2004 request is $20.4 billion. NASA received $14.9 billion in FY2002; $15.3 billion in FY2003; and the FY2004 request is $15.5 billion. All NASA figures include aeronautics funding ($400 million-$1 billion annually in recent years).

[GRAPHIC Does not include Transition Quarter. See text for other notes.]

Space Program Issues

NASA Issues

The space shuttle Columbia accident on February 1, 2003 undoubtedly will be the focus of attention at NASA for some time. Apart from the human tragedy, there are practical aspects of grounding the shuttle fleet that affect the space station and the Hubble Space Telescope programs. The shuttle is used to service Hubble (the next servicing mission was scheduled for 2004), and takes crews and cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS), which is under construction in orbit. The Columbia tragedy and questions arising from it are discussed in CRS Report RS21408, CRS Issue Brief IB93017, and CRS Issue Brief IB93062, and will not be repeated here. The key question from a NASA-wide standpoint is what impact the Columbia tragedy may have on the agency, and on the space program overall, as the public and policy makers debate the benefits of human space exploration versus its risks and costs. Some may argue that more emphasis should be placed on robotic exploration instead of risking human lives, while others may view the tragedy as the time to recommit to the vision of human space exploration as humanity's destiny. H.R. 3057 (Lampson) would establish long-term space goals.

NASA conducts many other activities separate from human spaceflight, and issues may arise with some of those programs, too. For example, NASA is requesting $279 million in FY2004 for Project Prometheus, which is the combination of NASA's Nuclear System Initiative (NSI) and a Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO). The 5-year (FY2004-2008) budget projection for Project Prometheus is $3 billion. NASA estimates that JIMO would be launched in 2012 to 2013, and the total estimated program cost through 2012 is $8-9 billion, although NASA stresses that the estimate is very preliminary. The NSI portion of Project Prometheus was approved in the FY2003 budget, and will develop space nuclear power and propulsion for planetary spacecraft. JIMO, a new request in the FY2004 budget, is a spacecraft designed to successively orbit three of Jupiter's moons (Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede) to determine if liquid water is present beneath their surfaces. Water is essential to life, and the discovery of liquid water would suggest the possibility of life. NASA had been planning a mission to Europa, which was supported by the planetary science community and Congress. In the FY2003 budget, however, NASA canceled the Europa mission because it was too expensive. The decision to initiate an even more expensive mission may raise questions. Congress did appropriate $20 million for JIMO in the FY2003 Consolidated Appropriations Resolution (P.L. 108-7), however, even though NASA did not request funding for it in FY2003. Congress approved NASA's request to initiate the NSI, but cut $19 million from the $125 million request. The House approved full funding for Project Prometheus in the FY2004 VA-HUD-IA appropriations bill (H.R. 2861). The Senate Appropriations Committee (S. 1584) recommended a $20 million cut since the program received an unrequested $20 million in FY2003.

In addition to programmatic issues, NASA also is seeking to address human capital challenges stemming from its aging workforce. Human capital is a government-wide issue addressed in the President's Management Agenda, and NASA is seeking legislation that will provide the agency with more flexibility in hiring and retaining workers. H.R. 1085 (Boehlert) and S. 610 (Voinovich) address NASA specifically. H.R. 1836 (Davis) addresses NASA, DOD, and the Security and Exchange Commission. See CRS Report RL31991 for a comparison of those bills.

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