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The first meeting of the National Space Council just wrapped up. You can see highlights here. I have several thoughts.
The entire event was very carefully staged, with the planned outcomes determined beforehand. The three panels of speakers were organized to match up with the three main actions the council intended to pursue, with the questions from the various high level Trump cabinet members clearly arranged to line up with each panel. Moreover, the fact that all these panel members were there and participating in this staged event suggests that Trump himself is directly interested, and insisted they do so.
The first action was a decision to rework the country’s overall space policy, including its future goals for exploring the solar system. This action item was linked with statements by officials from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Orbital ATK, and was clearly intended to placate their desire to keep what they all called “sustained” and “reliable” funding. It was also clearly linked to Pence’s opening remarks, which insisted that the U.S. should return to the Moon, permanently, and use that as a jumping off point for exploring Mars and the rest of the solar system.
The second action was a commitment to review, in the next 45 days, the entire regulatory bureaucracy that private companies must face. This was linked to the testimony from officials from SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Sierra Nevada.
The third action was a focus on the military and national security aspects of space, focused on the development of a “space strategic framework” that will apparently link the military needs with the growing commercial space industry. This framework has been under development for several months. The council actually spent the most time questioning the national security witnesses on this issue. This focus also aligns with the main interest in space held by Trump’s nominee for NASA administrator, Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma). Interestingly, Bridenstine was in the audience, but was given no speaking opportunity, unlike the NASA acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, who Pence specifically provided a moment to speak.
Overall, this meeting indicates that the Trump administration is likely not going to do much to drain the swamp that presently dominates our space effort. Trump’s interest in reducing regulation remains strong, but it also appears he and his administration is also strongly committed to continuing the crony capitalism that is wasting literally billions of dollars in space and helping to put the nation into unrecoverable debt.