Last month, US president Donald Trump named Scott Pace as executive secretary of the newly formed National Space Council. Pace is director of the Space Policy Institute and a professor of the Practice of International Affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
He’s a longtime veteran of both the public and academic sides of the space sector. In the 1990s, Pace worked for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as assistant director for space and aeronautics. He also worked for the RAND Corporation’s Science and Technology Policy Institute up until 2000. From 2005 to 2008, he served as the associate administrator for program analysis and evaluation at NASA, during George W Bush’s presidency.
Many commercial space organizations that he’s involved with have voiced support for the appointment. He’s a Board of Governors member for the National Space Society; an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; and a member of the International Academy of Astronautics. Organizations such as the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation have also voiced support of the appointment.
There are big questions now as to what role the National Space Council will have in shaping U.S. space policy, and what type of agenda the council will promote in that role, particularly with regard to private sector space enterprise, public-private partnerships, and the prospects returning to the Moon.
Here’s a look at some of the positions Pace has taken on these topics in the past, in his own words (with our emphasis added).
‘Careful analysis’ needed in public-private partnerships
The role of public-private partnerships in space has become an important and contentious issue as commercial entrants have made access to space more affordable. Throughout his past, Pace has consistently voiced a measured approach to public-private partnerships for further the U.S.’s space interests.
In a November 2015 testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Science, Space, and Technology committee, Pace outlined the balance between public-private partnerships in space development. “If the dominant market demand is for a public good, then the burden rightly falls on the government. If the dominant market demand is from the private customers, the burden should be borne by the private sector,” he said.
Pace furthered this idea of balance in a 2016 op-ed published by Space News about NASA’s SLS:
“Careful analysis is needed to know which partnership deals make sense and which do not. Partnerships can make sense when fixed costs can be shared with non-government customers, as for example when Falcon 9 vehicles can be used for delivering communications satellites or cargo to the International Space Station. They don’t make sense when the government is the only source of demand, as in the case of deep space exploration. The United States does not face a stark choice between markets or governments in space, but rather the need for clear thinking on how to pursue a mixed strategy, using a variety of tools, to serve national interests.”
Commercial space is an advantage for US
In November 2015, Pace outlined how the U.S. has and will continue to benefit from robust private sector interest in space, but only as much as the U.S is able to establish regulatory and economic conditions that the private sector favors:
“The significance of private funding and development of new capabilities is coupled with the reality of globalization. Not only are modern space capabilities becoming ubiquitous but private funding also means that new and unexpected capabilities may be developed elsewhere in the world. To date, it has been to the advantage of the United States that innovative space activities have been concentrated in U.S. companies. This advantage is predicated on a timely and responsive domestic regulatory process and favorable economic conditions, but these cannot be assumed to be a given.”
Pace has also cautioned that the term “commercial space” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. During a March 2014 testimony, Pace said:
“While the success of the SpaceX Falcon and, more recently, Orbital’s Antares launcher is welcome, it should be kept in mind that governments, not private industry, drive much of global launch demand. Much of what has been labeled ‘commercial space transportation’ at NASA in recent years is really just innovative contracting with new contractors. It is, largely, not private capital being put at risk to compete in private markets; the arrangements involved might far more accurately be described as ‘private-public partnerships’.”
US should return to the Moon
Pace has articulated interest to see the development of cislunar space, and particularly going to the Moon, as a stepping stone towards deeper space exploration. While president George W Bush had set a return to the moon as a target for NASA for future space exploration, the Obama administration was more interested in reaching Mars. Pace has argued that the Moon should remain the focus of future human spaceflight missions for the U.S.
In a February 2015 testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness, Pace delivered a reprimand for the Obama administration for abruptly changing course away from a return to the Moon and towards an asteroid mission instead.
“The lack of U.S. support during the present [Obama] Administration for a program to return to the Moon made it difficult for advocates of human space exploration in The United States, Europe, Japan, India, and elsewhere to gain funding for any efforts beyond the ISS.
“The next steps beyond low Earth orbit will require international partners for practical and political reasons. Therefore, it makes sense to ask what our partners would like to do, and what they are capable of doing in the future. The answer is the Moon–with Mars and other destinations in the distance. A U.S. commitment now, to lead a multinational program to explore the Moon, would be a symbolic and practical first step as well as a means of creating a broader international framework for space cooperation. The Moon is not just a destination, but also a means of answering questions, creating capabilities, training organizations, and forging new relationships to serve the interests of the United States and its allies.”
International cooperation will advance US interests in space
Pace has also taken positions in favor of international cooperation in space activities. In his February 2015 testimony, Pace argued that bolstering international cooperation is in the U.S.’s best interest.
“The task for the United States, if it wishes to influence how space is developed and utilized, is to create attractive projects and frameworks in which other nations choose to align themselves, and their space activities with us, as opposed to others. It is crucial to remember that international space cooperation is not an end in itself, but a means of advancing national interests.”
In that testimony, he argued that it “has been the inconstancy of U.S. policy choices,” regarding human spaceflight and space exploration, “that has made attaining an international consensus so difficult in recent years.”
“The international space community in particular, which had been shifting attention to the Moon as the completion of the International Space Station (ISS) drew near, felt blindsided. Countries in Asia, such as Japan, India, China, and South Korea, saw the Moon as a challenging but feasible destination for robotic exploration and a practical focus for human space exploration, a goal offering missions in which they could reasonably expect to play a part. The lack of U.S. support during the present Administration for a program to return to the Moon made it difficult for advocates of human space exploration in the United States, Europe, Japan, India, and elsewhere to gain funding for any efforts beyond the ISS.”
National Space Council can make space ‘great again’
Just what role the National Space Council will play is yet to be determined. Questions about how the council will align with the Trump administration’s goals, and how it will interface with other government agencies like NASA, for example, are unclear at this point.
As executive secretary, Pace will manage the council’s day to day activities. Given his work at the OSTP — and the dearth of employees the office currently holds, under the Trump administration — it’ll be interesting to see if and how the council will take the lead on commercial space issues.
In an op-ed published earlier this year by The Hill, Pace wrote:
“The White House does not, and has never needed, a space council to supervise NASA, but it does need a way to combine the separate strands of national security space programs, diplomatic engagement, commercial competition and civil space cooperation with a unity of national purpose and effort. Leadership in space is vital to protecting our own interests and creating a more stable international order in which the United States continues to be the indispensable nation. The Trump administration has the opportunity to ‘Make America Great Again’ in space, not by repeating the past or relying on others to lead, but by working across traditionally separate departments and agencies and creating new partnerships for commerce, security and exploration. A national space council, led by Vice President Pence, can make this a reality.”
Just how, exactly, the NSC will operate in conjunction with the other space-focused divisions within the federal government remains to be seen.
For a great dive into some of the questions lingering over the efficacy of NSC and the challenges it will face in coordinating policy efforts across departments, read Marcia Smith’s take over at SpacePolicyOnline.com.