Spaceflight Insider

NASA hosts National Space Council meeting at Kennedy Space Center

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida played host to a meeting of the National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, Feb. 21. It served as a venue to unveil the Trump Administration’s plans for human space exploration. 

The meeting began at around 10 a.m. EST (15:00 GMT) and helped place the nation’s space program in the national spotlight. After his arrival on Tuesday, Vice President Pence toured Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch facilities and participated in other activities. 

On Wednesday, Vice President Pence led the National Space Council meeting inside Kennedy’s Space Station Processing Facility. “Moon, Mars, and Worlds Beyond: Winning the Next Frontier” was the theme of the event with testimonials from leaders in the civil, commercial, and national security sectors about the importance of the United States’ continued efforts in space. If that sounds somewhat familiar, it should as; “Moon, Mars and Beyond” – was the mantra of the Constellation Program which was cancelled under the Obama Administration. 

Recovered booster core from one of the outside cores used on the maiden flight of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy. Photo Credit: Carleton Bailie / SpaceFlight Insider

One of the core themes at the NSC’s meeting was the need to have regulations catch up with the technology that is currently in use. Image Credit: Carleton Bailie / SpaceFlight Insider

“It is great to be back at America’s Space Coast,” Pence exclaimed to an audience of council members, guests and the media. His opening remarks praised NASA and the U.S.’ private space industry but added that he considered that there was still much work to do. “While American industry and technology have leaped towards the future, our government agencies too often have remained stuck in the past.” 

The theme of U.S. regulations slowing progress in space was an oft-repeated mantra throughout the course of the day’s events.
Pence’s opening remarks included an overview of the Trump Administration’s Space Policy Directive 1, which sets out to focus the nation’s efforts on human space exploration and commercial involvement while at the same time reducing regulatory burdens at all levels.
“As we continue to push further into our solar system, new business and entire enterprises will be built to serve the infinite possibilities before us and there will be no limit to the jobs and prosperity that will be created across this country,” Pence said.
The meeting began with prepared statements addressing departmental plans towards the realization of this vision. 
General H.R. McMaster’s led with a summary of his plans to fundamentally transform U.S. space architecture from a science, technology and research centered collection of systems into a substantive and redundant set of fielded capabilities. 
Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot discussed NASA’s three core domains: low-Earth orbit, lunar orbit and the surface of the Moon, Mars and other deep space objectives. He presented a series of initiatives to support a commercial lunar landing by 2020 and the ending of direct support of the International Space Station and its transition to commercialized operations by 2025. Lightfoot also outlined the timeline of Orion’s first uncrewed lunar mission, Exploration Mission 1, in 2020 and a crewed flight in 2023. NASA’s next Mars rover landing is currently slated for 2020 which, as part of its mission, will conduct an experiment to see if oxygen can be produced from the Martian atmosphere, all of which are building blocks for subsequent robotic missions.
Major tenants of the administration’s directive include an analysis of the private sector regulatory environment. Jeffrey Rosen, the deputy secretary of transportation spoke to modernization and streamlining directly. He said his department has developed, “…structural and meaningful changes to the status quo.” regarding launch licensing including a 21st century “file and fly” environment.

Wilbur Ross the secretary of commerce commented on the recent SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch and “unison landing” of the two side boosters. “Somewhere out there in space there is a red roadster, going 1,000’s of miles an hour… we had better keep up with it.” He stated that space was a 330 billion dollar industry employing an estimated 211,000 Americans, but in 2017 only 45 percent of all new space company’s were created here.

“We now compete with 70 foreign governments, who are new and don’t carry baggage of a 25 year old regulatory environment.” Ross stated, “We need an adaptive and relatively permissive regulatory system. The rate of regulatory change must meet the rate of technological change,” Ross said. “That is how we will ensure that businesses choose the U.S. as their flag of choice for space.”

Submitted for the Council, Ross recommended creating a “One Stop Shop” for space commerce and proposes moving the Office of Space Powers and the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs Office (most space related regulation except launch and re-entry licensing) under his direct oversight. “Space tourism, asteroid mining, these aren’t that far away.” 

The meeting closed with 2 short panels discussing national security threats and opportunities in space and space commercialization.
Susan Gordon, Principle Deputy Director for National Intelligence explained that her people were “…drivers, users, and practitioners of U.S. space.” Gordon painted a picture of a competent and sophisticated Russian and Chinese space program, including their capabilities in jamming, anti satellite missiles, lasers, and orbital weapons, many of which are coming online in the next few years. Dean Cheng of The Heritage Foundation spoke of a similar “Quiet threat” Suggesting that these capabilities were quietly being developed off of the U.S.’ radar.
“When we interact with China’s space program, we are essentially interacting with China’s military.” Cheng explained that it’s more of a single integrated space enterprise than a collection of different initiatives. 
In closing Pence encouraged everyone to connect with those members on the advisory council. “It’s an extraordinary group of Americans that’s bringing together some of the brightest minds in this country to accelerate innovation across our nation’s space enterprise.” 

The advisory board to the National Space Council was re-established last year by President Trump. Council Chairman Vice President Mike Pence announced on Feb. 20, 2018, that twenty-nine candidates had been selected to serve on the National Space Council’s newly formed Users Advisory Group. Pending official appointment by the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the selected members of the Users Advisory Group will serve to fulfill President Trump’s mandate to “…foster close coordination, cooperation, and technology and information exchange across our nation’s space enterprise.”

The nominated candidates include Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin and four other former astronauts, the leaders of nine American space launch or rocket companies, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, as well as fourteen other leaders in the civil, commercial, and national security sectors.

Two of these candidates, Dean Cheng (Heritage Foundation) and Mary Lynne Dittmar (President and CEO of The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration), participated in the televised panel discussions at the Feb. 21 National Space Council Meeting held at KSC. Cheng emphasized the growing threat of the Chinese with respect to both the commercial and military aspects of space. Dittmar identified the crucial need for streamlining and simplifying acquisition and procurement and expressed her appreciation for being selected for her position.

“It is an honor and privilege to be nominated to the Users’ Advisory Group advising the National Space Council as they determine critical next steps supporting American leadership in human space exploration, science and commerce,” said Dittmar via a release issued by the Coalition for Space Exploration. “Once the process is complete, I look forward to working with the Administration to explore synergies across the government, the aerospace industry and representatives of other industries as we work together to enhance America’s innovation and leadership in space.  In addition, I will be proud to represent the diverse membership of the Coalition and the interests of the large and small firms at the leading edge of U.S. manufacturing, aerospace engineering, new technology development, space science and human exploration.”


This article was contributed to by: Ryan Chylinski, Jim Siegel, and Jason Rhian


Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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