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Interplanetary Frontiers, OSTP: Harnessing the Possibilities of Science, Technology, and Innovation

Status Report From: Office of Science and Technology Policy
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Excerpt from FACT SHEET: Harnessing the Possibilities of Science, Technology, and Innovation, OSTP

Interplanetary Frontiers

At the beginning of his Administration, President Obama set out anew vision for space exploration, harking back to the spirit of possibility and exploration that defined the space race of the 1960s, while building upon and advancing 21st century technologies and capabilities. In 2010, the Administration restructured the U.S. civil space program to look forward to bold new goals, not backwards to old ones; to collaborate with, rather than compete with, American entrepreneurs; and to broaden participation and take advantage of new technologies being created at NASA and in America’s laboratories.

As President Obama noted earlier this week, these policies have fostered a burgeoning commercial space sector that is creating new jobs in places such as California, Colorado, Florida, Texas, and Washington, as the space economy attracts record amounts of venture capital. Working with NASA, American companies have developed new spacecraft that are cost-effectively delivering cargo to the International Space Station and will start ferrying astronauts there by the end of next year.

In 2011, the Administration created a new organization within NASA—a Space Technology Mission Directorate—charged with developing new technologies that would enhance capabilities and reduce costs for both the U.S. space industry and NASA’s missions, including critical technologies needed to achieve the President’s goal of a human mission to Mars in the 2030s. These technologies range from better life-support systems to efficient solar-powered electric propulsion systems. Much of this work is being performed in cooperation with companies and universities across the Nation.

And now, the Administration has started collaborating with industry to build the space modules or “habitats” in which U.S. astronauts will live and travel to Mars and other deep-space destinations. By doing so, humanity will begin to move beyond the constraints of Earth, out into the depths of deep space—the “proving ground” that will ultimately guide us to Mars and beyond. And in the coming years, the work NASA will do—in collaboration with private and international partners—to develop these deep-space habitats will in turn help reduce the barriers to private companies that hope to build their own space stations in Earth orbit or beyond. 

This fall, NASA will also start the process of providing companies with a potential opportunity to add their own modules and other capabilities to the International Space Station. As NASA shifts the focus of its human exploration program to deep space, America’s businesses will take a larger role in supporting space activities in Earth’s orbit.

To further build on this momentum, the Administration is announcing:

Over $50 million in new Federal investments and steps that will harness the small-satellite revolution. Entrepreneurs are taking advantage of recent advances in electronics and information technology to dramatically reduce the time and cost of designing, building, testing, and launching constellations of satellites.  In the coming weeks, Federal agencies will announce investments and new steps they will take to advance the state of the art in small-satellite technology and increase the adoption of “smallsats” for commercial, scientific, and national security needs. Advancing smallsat technology and adoption could, for example, allow companies to provide ubiquitous high-speed Internet connectivity and offer continuously updated imagery of the Earth. As part of this initiative, NASA will invest $30 million to support public-private partnership opportunities that allow for Earth Science observations to be provided by constellations of commercial small spacecraft. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has just entered into a $20 million data purchase agreement with smallsat startup Planet to buy imagery from its constellation of earth-orbiting spacecraft.

A new Executive Order to coordinate efforts to prepare the Nation for space-weather events. Building on the National Space Weather Strategy and National Action Plan released last October, today the President will sign an Executive Order that will help minimize the harm that space-weather events can cause across our Nation. The new Executive Order will minimize economic loss and save lives by enhancing national security, identifying successful mitigation technologies, and ordering the creation of nationwide response and recovery plans and procedures. Further, the Executive Order will enhance the scientific and technical capabilities of the United States, including improved prediction of space-weather events and their effects on infrastructure systems and services. By this action, the Federal Government will lead by example and help motivate State and local governments, and other nations, to create communities that are more resilient to the hazards of space weather.

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