Press Release

Oral Statement from Eric Stallmer, CSF President, Before the Senate Commerce Committee

By SpaceRef Editor
July 9, 2019
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Chairman Cruz, Ranking Member Sinema, and distinguished members of the Committee—  thank you for inviting the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) to discuss how rapid advances by the U.S. commercial space industry can help NASA truly honor its Apollo legacy by leading humanity into the solar system further and faster.  

In the past two years, NASA has crystalized an ambitious agenda to commercialize low-Earth orbit (LEO), establish a long-term presence on the surface of the Moon, and send humans to Mars.  These goals are linked together, and collectively they will enable the expansion of our civilization into the solar system.  

It is the breadth of this vision, of space as a frontier for all, that makes the recent emergence of a strong U.S. commercial spaceflight industry so uniquely valuable.   It didn’t just happen overnight. For two decades, NASA fostered the development and increasing success of this industry: sharing technologies and expertise, co-investing in private innovation, and using its purchasing power to serve as an initial customer. Those steps have enabled private companies to develop, own, and operate their own human spaceflight hardware to serve public needs as well as private sector markets. 

These efforts were grounded in the NASA Act’s mandate “to seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space,” as well as bipartisan legislation and administration policies under both Democratic and Republican presidents. Over just the past two years, Space Policy Directives 1, 2, and 3, have strengthened the partnership between Government and industry and helped remove barriers to industry growth. And, under your leadership, this Committee has worked to facilitate industry’s development via the Space Frontier Act.

At the start of the Space Age, the United States established its leadership in space with government-funded and -led space exploration projects. When President Kennedy proposed sending an American to the Moon, there were no alternatives to an all-government strategy.  

But today, five decades after Apollo, the United States is enjoying a renaissance in space, with commercial space enterprises playing a leading role. The details are in my written testimony, but in summary the U.S. has leapt forward in 2018 in every commercial space sector, with more launches of more spacecraft pursuing both old and new space applications, benefitting more and more stakeholders here on the Earth.  

So today, as we seek to further develop LEO, place an enduring American presence on the Moon, and send not just two but many brave pioneers to Mars, some to even stay… policymakers like yourselves have newer, more affordable and sustainable options than just repeating Apollo. 

The ingredients of a successful strategy have proven themselves over and over in recent years:  

  1. All future LEO infrastructure, every operational element of returning to the Moon (beyond Orion and SLS), and most of any affordable Mars architecture should be purchased commercially or developed via a COTS-like partnership.  For example, by allowing the private sector to develop its own solution for the Lunar Gateway Power Propulsion Element, NASA was able to generate a fixed-price bid that was more than $200 million less than the closest competitor.
  2. While science is appropriately a government-led activity, the basic engineering and infrastructure that supports it can be provided commercially, with only the leading edge tools and instruments requiring government stewardship.
  3. NASA should specify clear, high-level, outcome-based requirements and allow entrepreneurs to innovate to create affordable and basic capabilities to meet essentially all of its operational needs.
  4. NASA must pay for results, not effort, on all development programs but the most esoteric technical challenges.  Wherever possible NASA should award multiple, competitively-chosen, funded Space Act Agreements to commercial partners willing to put private capital at risk.  That leverage,  plus ongoing competition, will replace any need for the costly micromanagement and bureaucracy of typical FAR-based contracts.  Competition also allows for greater diversity in technical approaches and much lower strategic program risk.
  5. NASA should encourage new, non-traditional companies to become part of its programs by adapting its processes to fit with normal business-to-business arrangements.  Every step NASA takes towards regular terrestrial industry will pay huge rewards in terms of affordability and long-term sustainability, since they are proven successes at finding and developing new commercial markets.  

None of this will be easy.  Commercializing LEO will be hard.  Human travel to the Moon is hard, and staying will be harder.  Mars will be harder still, but with even greater rewards as we explore a different planet and its moons.  But American industry is ready to help NASA chart an affordable and sustainable path into this challenging future.  

This month it’s natural to venerate the past, but we should also be proud of the great new things we are already achieving today, and what we can do together tomorrow if we build a true partnership between the government, including Congress, and the American people and their enterprises.  

Chairman Cruz, Ranking Member Sinema, thank you for your invitation and attention, and I look forward to your questions.

SpaceRef staff editor.