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Enabling Scientific Input to a National Space Strategy

Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - 17:10

Join the AAS Committee on Public Policy (CAPP) at the 233rd Meeting in Seattle for a special listening session with the committee tasked with advising the National Space Council (NSpC): the Users’ Advisory Group (UAG). The listening session, taking place during a Wednesday (9 January 2019) afternoon town hall, will be an opportunity to share the astronomy community's priorities, comments, and/or concerns with the national space policy strategy. If you have not yet registered for the meeting, remember that the regular registration deadline is 8 November!

The NSpC is an interagency committee that has existed, off and on and in various forms since 1958. The present iteration of the NSpC was reestablished in summer 2017. Its members include heads of executive agencies and senior White House officials, and it is chaired by the Vice President. The NASA Administrator serves on the NSpC, but the National Science Foundation (NSF) is not officially a member. The Director of the Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) has a seat on the committee, but the current nominee has not yet been confirmed to the position. The Executive Secretary of the NSpC is Scott Pace (profiled by Jason Callahan), who has emphasized his views on the importance of considering geopolitical context in shaping a space policy and acknowledges the importance of US leadership in science, though perhaps not as a driving motivation in developing space policy and a national space strategy. As a White House interagency committee, the NSpC exists to implement the administration’s priorities in space policy and to do so in a way that coordinates across agencies and sectors (civil, commercial, and military). Thus far, the NSpC has mostly focused on lowering barriers to broader commercial utilization of space, like regulations and space situational awareness, though they did have a science panel (featuring Steve Squyres and Louise Prockter) at the third meeting of the group in June (see their panel remarks and Q&A at minutes 13:13 − 31:52 of this recording), focused on Mars science and exploration strategies.

The NSpC has a new FACA advisory committee — i.e., a federally-regulated group to ensure transparency about who is advising the government and how — called the UAG, which has been described as the “think tank” for the NSpC. From its charter (with some paraphrasing for brevity), the UAG is charged with:

  • Seeking to ensure that the interests of industry, other non-Federal entities and other persons involved in aeronautical and space activities are adequately represented in the NSpC;
  • Providing subject matter expertise to the NSpC;
  • Submitting reports with findings and recommendations to the NSpC;
  • Conducting studies, reviews, and evaluations, as requested by the NSpC; and
  • Submitting an annual report to the NSpC on its activities, as requested by the NSpC.

The UAG held its first meeting in June, and its next meeting will be on 15 November. Many of the members of the UAG are recognized leaders in varied areas of the civil, commercial, and military space sectors, but there are no active scientific researchers in the group and few direct connections between any of the group members and the scientific or academic communities.

Given this lack of scientific stakeholder representation on the UAG, paired with the absence of NSF and (for now) an OSTP Director on the NSpC itself, the AAS and the scientific community are eager to ensure that a national space strategy is informed by scientific input. The UAG has begun a series of “listening sessions” to engage with the broader space community, which started mid-September with two sessions at recent American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space Forum. At those sessions, concerns were raised about the missing scientific community input. UAG members acknowledged the concern. One UAG member (Mary Lynne Dittmar, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration) is also on the National Academy of Science’s Space Studies Board (SSB), told SpaceNews that her being on the SSB “doesn’t quite check the box...but it does provide an additional conduit.” Dave Thompson (retired CEO of Orbital ATK, now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems), another UAG member, described a possibility of UAG- and/or Academies-organized one-day workshops to gather thought leaders in space sciences. Multiple further listening sessions have already been scheduled for industry/aerospace/aeronautics/human exploration community (including International Astronautical Congress, Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Summit on Space Innovations), all this fall, but none was yet scheduled aiming at hearing from the space science community.

AAS has therefore worked with the UAG to hold a listening session at the upcoming AAS 233 meeting in Seattle. The UAG has enthusiastically engaged, and several committee members will be in Seattle for a town hall on Wednesday (9 January 2019) afternoon. We invite all meeting attendees to consider attending this listening session to ensure that the key priorities, interests, and concerns of our community are heard. In thinking about what might be most relevant and useful, we at AAS are thinking about inter-agency and/or cross-sector issues that are the unique purview of the NSpC, as well as the broad lunar and deep space exploration strategy being pursued by the administration, and we encourage you to do the same. Some issues that immediately come to mind are spectrum allocations and protections for science, space weather, and international cooperation, but there are surely others. We are still finalizing the details of how the listening session will go, but we are likely going to have a combination of (very brief) presentations on several key issues, and then open the floor for questions and comments. If you have an idea for an issue to be highlighted at this listening session, please reach out to us at public.policy@aas.org.

We recognize that the broad AAS community is not fully represented at the typical Winter meeting, particularly those from our planetary science and solar physics divisions. We encourage those communities who might be poorly represented at AAS 233 to reach out with specific issues we might be able to raise, and we can also work with the AAS Divisions to identify other appropriate means of providing input to the UAG.

Ashlee N. Wilkins
John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
American Astronomical Society (AAS)
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