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US National Space Policy 2020 stresses on space commerce, strengthening PNT services and inter-department collaboration


The US has unveiled a new National Space Policy 2020 that recognizes the significance of the rapidly growing commercial space industry within the country and calls for driving America’s leadership in space commerce.

The National Space Policy 2020, which was released on December 9, recognizes that a robust, innovative, and competitive commercial space sector is foundational to economic development, continued progress, and sustained American leadership in space. It commits the United States to facilitating growth of an American commercial space sector that supports the nation’s interests, is globally competitive, and advances American leadership in the generation of new markets and innovation-driven entrepreneurship.

“Our way of life on Earth is greatly enhanced by space and the United States acknowledges the importance of space to the advancement of all humanity. The United States will lead and strengthen enduring international partnerships to preserve and sustain space for future activity and so that all nations and all people can benefit from space and improve our way of living on Earth and in space,” the policy states.

The policy, coming towards the fag end of the Trump administration’s term, is a continuation of its earlier focus on opening up the Space sector with a stated mission of “American dominance in Space”. While the most talked-about have been the administration’s renewed focus on Moon and Mars missions and resurrection of the National Space Council, five different Space Policy Directives were signed in the past four years with as varied a focus as streamlining regulations in the commercial Space industry, setting up protocols for Space traffic control, strengthening cybersecurity for Space systems, and creation of the US Space Force under the Department of Defense.  

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“This new National Space Policy reflects the emergence of space commerce as a driving force for positive change in our economic and national security, contributing to America’s leadership in commercial space,” US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross, Jr. said in a statement. “The policy sets the stage for American businesses to thrive domestically and compete internationally as the global space economy grows into a trillion dollar market over the next two decades.”

The new space policy calls for closer collaboration among civil space agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operates the Nation’s fleet of weather satellites, Department of Defense, NASA, academia, the commercial sector, and international partners on weather data sharing and future satellite architecture development.

Space commerce

The policy specifically makes some updates in support of space commerce:

  • Directs the government to partner with the commercial space industry to gain innovation and cost savings;
  • Calls for targeted investments to encourage commercial space innovation and entrepreneurship;
  • Directs further regulatory streamlining to ensure timely, predictable, transparent, and flexible licensing processes that accommodate rapid innovation and adapt to market demands, consistent with Space Policy Directive-2 (SPD-2);
  • Tasks the Commerce Department to develop a new process to review, authorize, and supervise space activities beyond the scope of existing federal authorizations;
  • Reiterates the Commerce Department’s role as the lead civil agency for providing space situational awareness (SSA) and collision warnings to commercial space operators, consistent with SPD-3;
  • Underscores the need for responsible behavior in space (including use of SSA data and services), which is essential to safe, sustainable space commerce;
  • Calls for government and industry collaboration to secure the IT infrastructure for space systems, consistent with SPD-5; and
  • Promotes the development of commercial habitats in Earth orbit to eventually replace the International Space Station.

Space is just one area where the Department of Commerce promotes economic growth and opportunity.  Secretary Ross’s Strategic Plan for the Department of Commerce prioritizes the expansion of US commercial space activities as Strategic Objective 1.1. The global space economy exceeded $423 billion in 2019, with nearly 80% of that total representing commercial space activity, according to estimates of the Space Foundation. Investment banks have forecast that the global space economy will surpass $1 trillion by 2040. The department is leveraging resources from across its bureaus to grow the space economy through industry engagement, policy advocacy, export promotion, regulatory streamlining, international cooperation, satellite data buys, regional development grants, minority business promotion, economic analysis, and intellectual property protection.

PNT services

The policy recognizes the importance of space-based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Systems, and calls for maintaining US leadership in the service, provision, and responsible use of GNSS. To that end, in addition to continuous free worldwide access for peaceful civil uses of GPS services, the policy calls for:

  • Engagement with international GNSS providers to ensure compatibility, encourage interoperability with likeminded nations, promote transparency in civil service provision, and enable market access for United States industry;
  • Improvement in the cybersecurity of GPS, its augmentations, and federally owned GPS-enabled devices, and foster commercial space sector adoption of cyber-secure GPS enabled systems consistent with cybersecurity principles for space systems;
  • Allowing the continued use of allied and other trusted international PNT services in conjunction with GPS in a manner that ensures the resilience of PNT services and is consistent with applicable law;
  • Investmentment in domestic capabilities and support international activities to detect, analyze, mitigate, and increase resilience to harmful interference to GNSS;
  • Identifying and promoting multiple and diverse complementary PNT systems or approaches for critical infrastructure and mission-essential functions; and
  • Promotion of the responsible use of United States space-based PNT services and capabilities in civil and commercial sectors at the Federal, State, and local levels, including the utilization of multiple and diverse complementary PNT systems or approaches for national critical functions.

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Department of Homeland Security had identified 16 infrastructure as critical and any disruption in GNSS availability, reliability, resilience and integrity would weaken these critical infrastructure that sustains the national security, business operations and public safety.  In April, the DHS had submitted a report to Congress laying out potential roles for the Federal government and private industry in creating and operating contingency layers for PNT. The Report on Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Backup and Complementary Capabilities to the Global Positioning System (GPS) observes that the position and navigation functions in critical infrastructure are so diverse that no single PNT system, including GPS, can fulfill all user requirements and applications. There is recommendation for a series of application-specific PNT systems, rather than a single alternative, and that this be developed in coordination with industry owners and operators, with regulatory and financial incentives to encourage adoption.

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