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Two Trump advisers push for National Space Council

In a somewhat vague op-ed today, two Trump space policy advisers, former Congressman Robert Walker and University of California-Irvine professor Peter Navarro, recommend the re-establishment of the National Space Council to coordinate the U.S.’s civilian space effort.

Despite its importance in our economic and security calculations, space policy is uncoordinated within the federal government. A Trump administration would end the lack of proper coordination by reinstituting a national space policy council headed by the vice president. The mission of this council would be to assure that each space sector is playing its proper role in advancing U.S. interests. Key goals would be to would create lower costs through greater efficiencies. As just one example, a Trump administration will insist that space products developed for one sector, but applicable to another, be fully shared.

Here, it makes little sense for numerous launch vehicles to be developed at taxpayer cost, all with essentially the same technology and payload capacity. Coordinated policy would end such duplication of effort and quickly determine where there are private sector solutions that do not necessarily require government investment. [emphasis mine]

This analysis of the op-ed at gives some history of the National Space Council, as well as range of opinions about its usefulness.

Opinions in the space policy community about the value of such a Council run the gamut. Opponents argue it is just one more White House entity that can say “no” to any idea, but without the clout to say “yes” and make something happen. Supporters insist that a top-level mechanism is needed not only to effectively coordinate government civil and national security space programs, but to bring in the commercial sector and develop a holistic approach to space.

Walker and Navarro clearly share the latter opinion. They say the Council would “end the lack of proper coordination” and “assure that each space sector is playing its proper role in advancing U.S. interests.”

I however want to focus on the highlighted text above from the op-ed. This language appears to suggest that these advisers do not think it efficient for NASA to buy rockets and spacecraft from competing private companies, as it is doing with its cargo and crew ferries to ISS. If so, their advice will mean that a Trump administration will eliminate the competition that has been so successful in the past decade in lowering NASA’S costs and getting so much more done.

Yet, in the very next paragraphs Walker and Navarro say this:

Public-private partnerships should be the foundation of our space efforts. Such partnerships offer not only the benefit of reduced costs, but the benefit of partners capable of thinking outside of bureaucratic structures and regulations.

Vibrant companies such as Orbital ATK and SpaceX are working with NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Other companies such as Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon, Sierra Nevada, and United Launch Alliance are developing systems to carry astronauts to the ISS and beyond. Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace are leading the way on space tourism.

So, what are these two Trump advisers really proposing? I think this op-ed is delicately proposing that NASA stop wasting its money building SLS/Orion and instead focus its effort in buying products from the private sector. They are being delicate about this because they know that there are a lot of powerful companies and politicians who support SLS/Orion because of the money it pours into both these companies and congressional districts. By being somewhat vague they avoid giving these companies and politicians any ammunition to attack these proposals, while simultaneously giving the Washington insider world a hint on what Trump intends to do.

Their proposal to re-instate the National Space Council is also part of this political game. Following the 1970s the council was never really very influential, even when it was operating fully. Since Bush Jr. administration it has essentially been moribund, existing in law but not in fact. By proposing the re-creation of this council, including the possibility of appointments to such a council by Trump, the op-ed writers put forth a nice political plum that might keep happy and quiet a number of politicians who might otherwise oppose a Trump policy that kills SLS.

One more note. I myself have been contacted by members of the Trump team. It appears they want my advice also.

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  • wayne

    Very intriguing.

    Walker was historically, a reliable conservative & free-marketer, but I have no clue if he went all Crony after Congress. (Look what happened to Newt…)
    (Newt & Walker, masterfully utilized huge blocks of time in the House, with Special Orders, in the 1980’s. )

    As for Navarro, I am less familiar than Walker, but his name has been popping up at places like CATO/Heritage, for some time (decades).

    He’s a Reagan-Hater and a big fan of Industrial Policy, which I would suspect is why he gets along with DJT.

    [>Patiently awaiting the CNAS Policy paper!]

  • Orion314

    Bob, the idea of you having POTUS Trump’s ear to help the USA once again get a very badly needed
    coordinated space program with a mission , is an excellent piece of news, fingers crossed !!!!

  • Jimbo

    Bob you have definitely solidified my vote for Trump knowing that his people have contacted you for input.

    I was worried when I read the first part of the statement but then I reread the sentence after the highlighted portion:

    “Coordinated policy would end such duplication of effort and quickly determine where there are private sector solutions that do not necessarily require government investment.”

    I read it the second time as NASA not “developing” SLS or Orion, but buying rides on a falcon heavy or in a Dragon capsule. That if the capability exists the government will not pay to develop another version of it, and also it does not exclude paying for the development of a vehicle with capabilities that currently does not exist. Now the argument would be can the SLS and Orion capability be duplicated by commercial vehicles at this time or in the near future.

    I’m of two minds on this, I don’t like an additional layer of bureaucracy, but I also think for an effective policy change you would need someone on the level of the Vice-President in the loop on decisions at NASA and in the Air Force to be able to wrangle Congress to not mandate something like SLS.

  • mkent

    “One more note. I myself have been contacted by members of the Trump team. It appears they want my advice also.”

    Good news! Though, for obvious reasons, I don’t think it will make a practical difference.

    But along those lines, I assume you’re familiar with the Miller study from last summer?

  • Cotour

    “One more note. I myself have been contacted by members of the Trump team. It appears they want my advice also.”

    The Zman to become a high level Trump space consultant / adviser, now that is interesting. Things really are looking up, congratulations to the Zman and us all. Lets be optimistic that it turns into a long term, high paying four to eight year association.

    (Wayne, the T man is consulting with the Z man (?!) Edwards head must be spinning :)

  • mkent: I haven’t the faintest idea what “the Miller study” is. You say this as if it is as famous as the Declaration of Independence, but as far as I know, it is entirely obscure.

  • mike shupp

    And I’d be very pleased if Hilary’s people asked you for an earful or six.

  • Edward

    I think that Robert’s interpretation is correct. However, I do not think that we have much to worry about, as the government funded “duplication of effort” may be over. The two similar rockets have been designed and are operational.

    What is important to note here, is the similarity to the transcontinental railroads. The first one was funded in very large part by government money and land grants. Once completed, other companies quickly saw the opportunities in building their own transcontinental railroads.

    I believe that a similar process is now happening in the US space industry.

    Blue Origin is spending its own money to develop its own orbital rocket. Many companies around the world are using private financing to develop orbital rockets for small satellites. Sierra Nevada Corporation seems willing to build its own manned spacecraft to compete with Boeing and SpaceX (and Blue Origin), and these plans are happening before Bigelow puts up any space habitats as destinations for crews to go to.

    I think that this is very much a case of “if you build it, they will come.” If Bigelow builds a space habitat or two, several countries that want their own space research programs but do not want to develop their own rockets, manned spacecraft, and space stations will hire the habitats and space ferries, making these businesses lucrative for other companies to build their own versions — perhaps improved versions.

    Cotour, you wrote: “Edwards head must be spinning

    Why might my head spin because Robert is asked to advise Trump advisers?

    But if it makes you feel better, I will lie down until any spinning stops.

  • Some guy

    Well if you want to criticize his space policies then why don’t you contact them back and try to set them on the right path?

  • Some guy: You might be misinterpreting my post. I wasn’t actually criticizing Trump’s possible space policies, I was trying to dig into the op-ed to get a better understanding of what those policies might be, and in doing so, was actually quite pleased.

    My conversations with at least one member of the Trump team today was also very encouraging. It appears that, at least for the moment, they are looking to continue and even expand the commercial space effort, with NASA being the customer rather than the designer of future projects.

  • wayne

    Wow. People will vote for anybody, for any reason.

    Am I the only one, who read my own link?…from the October 13, 2016 Cato commentary:

    – “a former unsuccessful Democrat politician.” (returned to his tenured academic post)
    -“In 1993 Navarro wrote the book, Bill Clinton’s Agenda for America.”
    -“Navarro dismissed Reagan’s seven years of 4.4% annual GDP growth as “The Failure of Reaganomics” and the “Trickle Down Rip-Off.” He thought Reagan spent far too much on Defense.”

    “The essence of a national industrial policy,” Navarro explained, “is a full partnership between government and business… [T]he role of government is to help a nation’s businesses compete by providing technological assistance, subsidies and protectionist measure such as tariffs and quotas.”

    Navarro loves industrial policy & crony capitalism. HRC loves industrial policy & crony capitalism.
    DJT— blows with the wind, apparently loves protectionism & high tariffs, and is fond of industrial policy.
    –Be afraid, be very afraid.
    (The only question in my mind– Did Robert Walker turn into a Newt Gingrich?)

    Edward– you keep right on explaining your point of view. I hate HRC and will not vote for her. DJT is just as worse… and I am back again thinking I might just skip that line on my ballot this November, haz-mat suit or not.

    Tangentially– regarding transcontinental railroads in the USA.
    -Highly recommend this lecture by Murray Rothbard:

    Murray Rothbard:
    The Railroading of the American People
    (American Economy Lecture #2 from “The American Economy and the end of laisse faire 1870 to WW-2”)

  • Wayne: Nice research. My only comment is that my sense of the Trump campaign, based on my conversations with them as well as this op-ed, is that they will continue and possibly expand the commercial space partnership that has been so successful. Whether they actually go ahead and get rid of SLS/Orion remains unclear.

    As for Navarro, I think it is actually significant that, despite his past support of Bill Clinton, he is allied now with Trump, against Hillary Clinton. This doesn’t mean he has become a tea party conservative, but it does suggest that he, like Trump, has shifted his political positions somewhat with time. Navarro might have also now decided that big government programs like SLS don’t work, that it is better industrial policy to let private enterprise do it instead.

  • Wayne: Let me add that I am in total agreement with the lack of enthusiasm many people feel for Trump. In fact, in the past two days, in speaking to many conservative Washington insiders, it was astonishing how many said what one put so eloquently, that they “loathed Trump but loathed Hillary more.”

    We have no idea what Donald Trump will do. His past says he will be a liberal Democrat as president. His present says he might be more conservative, though I am hardly convinced of this.

    We do know however what Hillary Clinton will do. She will lie and cheat, corrupt the government as her husband did so well, and work to oppress the American people.

    The choice sucks. We are unfortunately stuck with it. No one (including Edward) has offered us a viable alternative.

  • wayne

    Mr. Z.,
    I would be totally remiss, if I didn’t say, “yes, it is very cool the Trump people are reaching out to people like you, regarding Space Policy.”
    At the very least, it demonstrates they are going down the Policy List & researching the current state-of-affairs and what-might-be-done going forward.

    As an interested civilian, I am largely un-equipped to evaluate “Space” & by necessity must leave it to others whom I trust, to advise me, as to the degrees of cronyism & anti-market forces that get slipped into the system and the trade-offs that result.
    (If you think this is a positive development, I’ll believe you in large degree. It is a long haul however, from formulating Policy, to actually cutting-the-checks from the Treasury.)
    I’m even willing to tolerate a certain degree of cronyism “for our side, in Space” as it were, but it has to be transparent & I don’t want Washington D.C. to determine the winners-and-losers.
    (Not a special pleader for Corporations, but I don’t hate them, unless they attempt to utilize the State for their own enrichment.)

    Navarro and his ilk, just scare me.
    “Industrial Policy” is/was/will be, bad when the left pushes it & when “our side” pushes it. It’s always dressed up in fluff from each respective viewpoint, but it all boils down to cronyism. It’s just a matter of who-gets-the-goodies.
    Industrial Policy is Syndicalism & Statism with a free-market smiley-face pasted on the front.

    (I’m just so leery & jaded with these people I instinctively recoil. “Moderately Trust but Verify Completely.” I have enough trouble keeping track of the opposition in the Other Party, much less the progressive crony moles in the GOP or the Trump-Camp. Walker for example, was a solid Conservative 20-30 years ago, but I’ll have to look up his more recent activities to see if his alliance with Navarro is good/bad/neutral.)

    I’m not a total purist on all this, but I am aligned with Edward’s views quite a bit.

    I’ll end with where I began–
    “Very intriguing!”

  • wayne

    (crossed in cyber-space)

    Yes– a terrible choice to be sure.

    The only way out–

  • wayne

    Anyone know anything about “Space Adventures, Ltd?”

    Wikipedia (sorry) claims that Robert Walker is on their Board of Directors. (Quick review of their website doesn’t tell me either way.) That alone doesn’t make him a crony (or captain-capitalism) but I have no clue what the business model for Space Adventures entails.

    He & Newt were absolutely masterful using Special Orders in the House. (They drove Tip O’Neil to drink, even more than he did.) He’s extremely articulate & spent a lot of his career in Congress, dealing with “technology & space.”

  • Wayne Space Adventures is the company that partners with the Russians to place tourists on ISS.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “No one (including Edward) has offered us a viable alternative.

    Since the vast majority still vote either Republican or Democrat, there is no actual “viable” alternative. The best we can do, at this point is vote our principles.

    There is no hope that Trump will suddenly turn conservative, as he has no inkling as to what that is.

    wayne wrote: “It is a long haul however, from formulating Policy, to actually cutting-the-checks from the Treasury.

    Policy may not require checks from the Treasury. A largely Laissez-faire solution may be acceptable, and requires even less expenditure from the Treasury than an overregulated solution would require.

    wayne’s suggestion that the only other best way out of this mess is the Convention of States may be correct, but only if we can get the national government to start following the Constitution. If they won’t follow the Constitution, a Convention of States would be futile.

    Political solutions have been failing, because our politicians have gotten to Washington and instead of being Mr. Smiths they have quickly turned into Senator Paines from the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

    Should a Convention of States fail, we would have to rely upon the military to finally uphold the Constitution, or failing that, another revolutionary war against the ruling tyrants. The Convention of States is the least messy, but since the tyrannical government is already ignoring the Constitution, it seems unlikely to be successful.

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