- Status Report
- Jan 30, 2023
Statement of Steven Lambakis before the House Science Committee, Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee
Statement of Steven Lambakis
National Institute for Public Policy
House Science Committee, Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee
Thursday, October 11, 2001
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, thank you very much for inviting me here today. This morning I would like to briefly address the integral importance
of space in our national lives and explain the pressing need I see for developing launch technologies to ensure our continued access to earth orbits and potentially
contribute to our national military power. I will conclude my remarks with some thoughts about the paradigms in which we operate and that we use to make
There are two ways to assess the value of continuing research and development on reusable launch technologies. We must evaluate these technologies, first, in
light of the national requirement for assured access to space, and second, given the potentially significant military applications of reusable launch technologies, for
the role they may play in facilitating our ability to use space to enhance force operations and undertake offensive and defensive combat operations in and from
We have seen significant changes in the space field over the past decade. There should be little doubt today that space operations help sustain our national
economy, profoundly impact our most important diplomatic and national planning activities, and, increasingly, provide key support to all modern military forces.
The spacecraft we routinely set in orbit influence the national and global distributions of power, help advance science and other disciplines in understanding, and
powerfully impact the creation of national and personal wealth. Commercial uses of space will expand over the next decade by many hundreds of satellites,
requiring by some estimates a total investment of more than one half a trillion dollars. Given the increased foreign and commercial activities in space, we have
seen, and will continue to see, a globalization of space infrastructures. With more than $100 billion invested in space by 1999, it is reasonable to assume continued
U.S. government investment in space will continue to sustain and expand national industry, economy, science, and security. By all political, economic, strategic,
and military measures, it is clear that this nation is committed to exploiting space. I believe our commitments today will help shape our national future with
respect to that environment.
There are a growing number of space powers and spacefaring nations. I define a spacefaring nation as any country that has national space infrastructure or that
owns or operates assets in orbit. A space power on the other hand is any country with the capacity to use for national purposes (economic or military) its
national assets, if it is has any, as well as commercial space assets and assets belonging to other countries or international consortia. There are, to be sure,
gradations of space power, with perhaps some of the most competent users of space being those countries that have robust national space infrastructures as well
as the experience and technical expertise to use information from a variety of satellites in artful and integrated ways.
As is the case with all knowledge and technologies, we can be assured that the technologies and expertise associated with space operations will continue to
proliferate. As the cost to reach orbit declines, we may expect even more international activity and heavier traffic in space. The United States must endeavor to
undertake those activities that will help maintain its preeminence in space.
The systems we require to launch payloads into orbit are fundamental to all the other space activities and missions we undertake. A flexible, survivable, reliable
launch infrastructure will be required to maintain and reconstitute satellite constellations and will make possible development of new forms of military power.
The disconcerting launch failures of the 1980s and 1990s remind us that we are in fact, even today, riding on the edge of a bubble that could burst at anytime. All
it takes for that bubble to break is an unkind combination of failures and misfortunes. Therefore, the pay-off for our succeeding in the development of critical
technologies and in the engineering of reliable, affordable systems could be so great, the military, commercial, and civil ramifications so extensive, that it is prudent
to press forward on as many fronts as we possibly can.
We are really looking for a capability – a rapid response capability to orbit. Our experience with other modes of transportation, especially the aircraft industry,
tells us that the best path to achieving that capability may be investment in reusable launcher technologies. Yet I believe we must also recognize that such
technologies may not immediately clear that path for us. I say this because we are not far enough along today to know exactly the right technology path, or the
right approach to ensuring reliable, rapid, affordable launch for this country, especially over the next decade or two. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are
trying to engineer an unprecedented capability. Many experts suspect that the answer to many of the launch challenges we face lies in reusable launch technology,
and they may very well be right. But maybe the answer to rapid, reliable, and affordable launch over the near term lies with expendables.
So I believe we need to press ahead on several fronts, to consider all the possibilities in a broad development effort, and to do what we can do to achieve the
capability we are after. This means that we should take care to learn the lessons and harness the results from all of our past experiments and development efforts,
to include the launch-on-demand technologies demonstrated by the DC-X program and the single stage to orbit technologies developed as part of NASA’s X-33
program. The maneuver capabilities under investigation as part of the X-37 project represent important steps in the development of a space maneuver capability,
which could help this country carry out important military missions. The implications of our success in the engineering of a reusable system could reach well
beyond traditional space support. Indeed, our ability to routinely send payloads aloft or send manned missions to orbit could reveal heretofore unthinkable
possibilities in the areas of logistics and support and even force enhancement. We cannot predict entirely where new technology development will lead and how it
will impact other industries and government activities.
An attention to history reminds us that we ought to expect expressions of international hostility not only to continue to occur on Earth, but also to occur in and
from space. Political-strategic uncertainty will ensure that our defense planners never rest. The quest for advantage, security, and prestige will continue in space.
The military importance of space today is centered on the information gathering and handling operations of satellites to inform decision makers and enhance
war-fighting operations. As an environment accessible to combat operations, it is also clear that space may be used not only to enhance operations, but also to
facilitate space control and force application operations.
The U.S. armed forces, therefore, may be among the principal beneficiaries of a breakthrough in reusable launch vehicle technologies. The world has changed from
ten years ago. Indeed, from a national security perspective, the threats we face are dynamic and may be expected to shift, sometimes unexpectedly, from region to
region. Reusable launch vehicle technologies could well improve reconnaissance capabilities, enhance the accuracy with which we deliver munitions and ensure
that they are delivered under positive control (with potential for recall), increase military range of action and responsiveness, and strengthen penetration power.
Developments in these areas may be expected to have profound implications for how we guard the peace, deter adversaries, and fight wars.
We must bear in mind that our military requirements and the instruments of war we require to ensure our safety will change over time. In his 1787 defense of the
then-proposed U.S. Constitution, Alexander Hamilton admonished anyone who would arbitrarily restrict instruments of war because, he said, “it is impossible to
foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent and variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them. The
circumstances that endanger the safety of nations are infinite.”Ê The truth of Hamilton’s statement was tragically confirmed by the infamous events that took place
in New York and here at the Pentagon on this day last month.
A military space plane could provide the agility, flexibility, and military robustness we are looking for to meet unique requirements in intelligence, combat,
logistics, and space support. As with any other weapons procurement program, we need to evaluate each proposed weapon according to reasonable affordability
and military utility criteria, and we also need to make judgments about the usefulness of those weapons in the larger foreign and defense policy contexts. It is
important to recognize that there are important questions to ask as we make decisions concerning a military space plane. Would it make our military forces more
operationally efficient?ÊÊ Would it offer critical operational and tactical advantages?Ê Would it help the United States remain one or even two steps ahead of its foes
in military capability and technology?Ê Would it give our leaders and commanders more options?Ê Would the ability to conduct stand-off, long-range, non-nuclear
strikes enhance our deterrent?Ê I believe that we are likely to find positive answers to many of these questions.
We ought to expect that our security circumstances from time to time will demand changes in the strategic concept of each of the military Services. The strategic
concept of a Service is fundamentally a description of how, when, and where it expects to protect the nation against some threats. A Service’s reason for being will
depend upon its ability to develop a new strategic concept related to newly perceived threats and military requirements.
Clearly the paradigms we use to understand the world and orient our decision-making may need to be changed. Many see the need for such change in the United
States Air Force. It is argued that this Service’s cultural attachment to the development and improvement of air power means that there is not enough room to
appropriately grow the space mission area. There is no question that the Air Force will have to change its culture and its bureaucratic orientation in order to
accommodate the changes we are seeing in the world and in our national interests.
But I am not convinced that the cause of our present difficulties in leadership in this area lies entirely with the Air Force. Indeed, I see significant defects in
policy-making that have led to inadequate expressions of support for our Services when it comes to exploring new concepts and developing systems for new
mission possibilities in space. To strike first at the obvious – current policy gives the RLV development mission lead to NASA, while the Air Force has been
directed to develop evolved expendable launch vehicle systems. Some have described this as “sharing” responsibility for launcher development. I view this
arrangement differently. I see this arrangement as one that divides responsibility for development, which means there are inadequate mechanisms in place to
ensure sharing of ideas and technology cross-fertilization. I believe it is prudent to give execution authority to the Air Force to develop reusable launch
technologies as well as to NASA, to encourage cooperation between these two centers of leadership in space, to include cost-sharing and potentially, if
appropriate from a mission requirement standpoint, co-development. There is too much at stake not to leverage these two centers of excellence.
Current high policy is unsettled and reflect differing visions concerning space and security. Our policy makers need to get their act together when it comes to
determining how this nation should proceed in space. We have some fundamental questions to ask ourselves. Why not use space to deliver the combat punch we
require?Ê Why limit ourselves to terrestrial-based options to deliver force from one continent to another when, conceivably, space-based systems may introduce
operational advantages that could outperform land-, sea-, or air-based options?Ê Our leaders have accepted the idea of power projection across long distances for
more than forty years. Why not explore the feasibility of doing long-range, stand-off, rapid, and precise non-nuclear force application from space?Ê Until we
resolve these questions, until we level out our policy and make it clear what we as a country are committed over the long-term to expanding our exploitation of the
space medium in ways that enhance security, officials responsible for acquisition in the Air Force will be understandably reluctant to commit resources to the
space area and hesitate to put the strength of an entire organization behind reusable launcher development efforts that is required if we are to make true progress.
Mr. Chairman, the United States has committed significant energy and resources to space operations, ensuring the country’s growing dependence on reliable and
unrestricted access to Earth’s orbits. Given its global dimensions, and given our national interests, space is the one environment where we can least afford to be
surprised. It is also an environment that, I believe, we can least afford not to exploit.
Thank you. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.