The Changing Balance of Power in Space


2012-10-06 by Robbin Laird

It is not surprising that the US’s position in global space is declining.

With an uncertain space policy, and conflicting priorities in space investments, the US lead in space would be under challenge.

And the rise of other space powers, an inevitable process, is altering the competitive landscape.

But the two together — space policy uncertainty and rising space powers — speak a inevitable story of US decline.

We have written about such a policy earlier in an op ed in Space News.

But without such a policy shift, decline is inevitable.

And our friends at Space News report the inevitable.

The United States remains the world’s dominant space power. Its position relative to its peers, however, has eroded steadily during the past five years in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive with the entrance of new players, according to a report released Oct. 3 by Futron Corp., a consulting firm based in Bethesda, Md.

In its fifth annual “2012 Space Competitiveness Index: A Comparative Analysis of How Countries Invest in and Benefit from Space Industry,” Futron assessed the relative strengths and weaknesses of government and commercial programs as well as the work force needed to support those endeavors. While many other countries are expanding space capabilities, the U.S. space program is in a period of “transition” and “uncertainty,” the report said.

That uncertainty stems, in part, from the White House’s decision to hand off to private companies the job of ferrying astronauts and cargo to low Earth orbit while NASA refocuses its efforts on developing technology to explore more distant targets including asteroids and Mars. In addition, it is unclear what impact legislation aimed at reducing the U.S. federal deficit will have on military and civil space programs. Since NASA retired the space shuttle, “there is also uncertainty associated with NASA’s contractor workforce reductions and questions of long-term space vision and priorities,” Futron analyst David Vaccaro said by email. “Even after the introduction of the National Space Policy, the actual formal implementation of policy elements can still lag.”

What is clearly needed is a new space policy with clear investments and focus for the new multi space power era.