Monday, April 8, 2019

Trump's Space Revolution - Beau Rothschild

by Beau Rothschild

Thanks to the efforts of the Trump administration, the United States is on the cusp of a space revolution.

Prior to his inauguration, President Trump promised America plenty of winning, and when it comes to the space industry, that is exactly what he’s delivered. America is once again leading the free world. Whether it be the scientific discoveries, technological innovations, or military capabilities needed to expand America’s influence into the final frontier, the Trump administration is fostering those processes. As a result, the United States is on the cusp of a space revolution.

On March 26, 2019, General John Raymond, the Air Force’s preeminent space officer, was nominated to lead the U.S. Space Command. This move is another victory for the Trump administration, as General Raymond will undoubtedly bring gravitas and legitimacy to Space Command -- a section of the Pentagon the President authorized just a year ago. But General Raymond is more than just a figurehead for Trump’s pet project, as critics may claim. As commander, Raymond will lead the organization in its goal to oversee and organize the entirety of America’s space operations, advancing America’s international interests in the process.

Indeed, Trump’s shift in focus from domestic issues to international considerations couldn’t have come at a better time. A January 2019 report from the Pentagon warns that both Russia and China are developing tools to threaten the United States’ aerospace supremacy by disrupting America’s satellite network. According to the report, “Chinese and Russian military doctrines indicate that they view space as important to modern warfare and view counterspace capabilities as a means to reduce U.S. and allied military effectiveness.” Their goal is clear: they want to outmatch America in space, the next field of warfare. We can’t let that happen.

With the pressure of our international adversaries bearing down, now more than ever the United States must rely on its own aerospace technology to advance its interests. America simply cannot afford to place the fate of its space program in the hands of foreign entities seeking to do us harm. Luckily, President Trump recognizes this fact and has set the United States on a course for technological independence in aerospace.

Currently, America relies upon the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine to transport even its most sensitive national security payloads. This has to change, and that is what the U.S. Air Force’s Launch Service Agreement (LSA) is attempting to accomplish. The purpose of the LSA program is to utilize U.S. aerospace contractors to develop America’s domestic launch capabilities, phasing out the use of foreign rockets in the process.

Last year, the Trump administration made a critical first step toward eliminating the influence of foreign powers over America’s national security. On October 10, 2018, the Air Force completed the first phase of the Launch Service Agreement. After an intensely competitive selection process, the Air Force chose to award three highly-regarded aerospace firms: the United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin, and Northrop Grumman. These contractors were carefully selected, combining the seasoned experience of ULA and Northrop with the fresh perspective of Blue Origin. Together, the companies were tasked with developing the rocket prototypes to be constructed in the second phase of the LSA. By all measures, the future of American national security is in good hands.

However, as the program presses onward, there have been rumblings from critics seeking to undercut the progress the Trump administration has made under the Launch Service Agreement. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA) have both penned a letter to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, advocating against the progress made by the Launch Service Agreement so far. Those elected officials are seeking an “independent” review of the Air Force’s selection method, essentially robbing the Trump administration of its discretionary authority. If successful, these vocal detractors would create a governmental logjam just as the LSA is transitioning into its second phase.

Phase 2 -- the critical execution phase in which two companies compete head-to-head over national security launch contracts -- will be underway soon. But it is facing adversity from special interests fighting for a leg up over their competition. SpaceX, Elon Musk’s aerospace company, was not selected for Phase 1 and has launched a lobbying effort on Capitol Hill to overturn that decision. Attempting to capitalize on the culture of moral outrage, SpaceX bemoans the Air Force’s “unfair” selection process, simply because it was excluded. But the company’s hollow criticisms expose its true goal: to weaken America’s standards for excellence and dilute the LSA’s effectiveness to satisfy its own desires.

Through their attacks against the LSA, these critics threaten to weaken America’s preeminence in space. What’s more, they dampen the Trump administration’s efforts to rid the country of its reliance on foreign aerospace infrastructure. Their actions pose a serious threat to our national security, and they must be stopped. The Trump Administration has led the nation to the edge of a space revolution, and it’s up to us to make sure the winning continues.

Beau Rothschild, a freelance author, is the founder of Rothschild Policy and Politics and the former members outreach director for the Committee on House Administration


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