U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “The New Space Race: Ensuring U.S. Global Leadership on the Final Frontier,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. The hearing will discuss the U.S. government’s strategy for maintaining leadership in space, ensuring space industry competitiveness, and addressing challenges to spacefaring preeminence.
- The Honorable Jim Bridenstine, Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- Mr. Kevin O’Connell, Director, Office of Space Commerce, Department of Commerce
*Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
This hearing will take place in the Dirksen Senate Office Building G50. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Chairman Roger Wicker
This morning we will deal with the new space race. In his famous 1962 speech announcing that the United States would land on the Moon by decade’s end, President John F. Kennedy said, “no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.” Those words hold true today.
We are delighted to have two witnesses who are helping to ensure that the United States maintains global leadership in space:
- The Honorable Jim Bridenstine, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- And Mr. Kevin O’Connell, Director of the Office of Space Commerce at the Department of Commerce
We are grateful to have you here and thank you presence, looking forward to your testimony.
2019 is an exciting year for space. July 20thwill mark the 50thanniversary of the NASA Apollo-11 mission — I was in a dormitory in Oxford, Mississippi on that particular date, hard to believe — which landed humans on the Moon and fulfilled President Kennedy’s bold vision for human space exploration.
By year’s end, NASA Commercial Crew program will be launching American astronauts, from American soil, and by American companies.
NASA’s flagship human exploration program — the Space Launch System (SLS) launch vehicle and Orion spacecraft — will likely achieve a number of milestones this year, including the core stage assembly and integration. That would be followed by test firing the core stage at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The dedicated workforce and testing assets at Stennis show the importance of maintaining national space infrastructure and programs.
We’ve entered into a new space race. This race is different from the one America won fifty years ago. The new space race has three dimensions:
First, the United States must maintain its position as the international “partner of choice” for current and aspiring spacefaring nations. Strengthening international partnerships through cooperation on space endeavors enhances our prestige around the world. The International Space Station is a key part of U.S. global leadership, but NASA’s FY 2020 budget request proposes to end funding for the ISS in 2025.
Witnesses should detail opportunities to enhance space partnerships with other nations and demonstrate how the budget request supports those efforts.
Secondly, America must maintain our position as the focal point for space commerce. We want space companies to be established and continue to grow in the United States. The global space industry is expected to grow from around $400 billion today to nearly $3 trillion over the next two decades.
President Trump has supported the commercial space industry through policies to streamline regulations for launch, remote sensing, spectrum usage, and export control. In particular, I commend the Vice President’s leadership of the National Space Council, which has achieved interagency consensus on critical issues and provided bold and clear direction on space policy.
Perhaps Mr. O’Connell will address the current state of the industry and provide the committee with a progress report on meeting various Space Policy Directives to promote the commercial space industry. Administrator Bridenstine should also address NASA’s role in partnering with commercial providers and growing the industry.
And third, as competition in commercial space heats up, we must stay ahead of rising space powers, notably China. Maintaining America’s position as the preeminent spacefaring nation is the final dimension of the new space race.
China’s space program could represent a significant challenge to American leadership in space. A recent Defense Intelligence Agency report noted that China’s space program “supports both civil and military interests.”
In January, China became the first country to explore the far side of the Moon. By 2025, China plans to complete its satellite navigation system rival to GPS, launch a rover to Mars, operationalize a space station, and begin building a Moon base, among other ambitions.
President Trump has provided clear direction for NASA to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration to enable human expansion across the solar system.” He is right.
I hope our witnesses will tell the committee how America can maintain an edge over foreign space programs and show how the budget request will help sustain American leadership in space.
It is essential that we have consistency in policy, stable and sufficient funding, and a robust set of international and commercial partnerships to achieve these goals.
Against a backdrop of international competition and a burgeoning space industry, the stakes articulated by President Kennedy more than half a century ago are even higher today. I look forward to working with my colleagues to help sustain America’s space leadership and chief among those are my friend and our Ranking Member, Senator Cantwell.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
CANTWELL: Thank you, Chairman Wicker. And thank you for holding today’s hearing on maintaining U.S. leadership in space. Obviously this year, 2019, astronauts will be returning to the International Space Station from America’s soil for the first time in nearly a decade. And just last week, SpaceX successfully completed an un-crewed demonstration launch to the International Space Station. Space tourism is just around the corner, and Virgin Galactic recently completed a piloted mission; we expect to see Blue Origin flying people in the very near future. In the chairman’s statement, he talked about Mississippi and NASA and how they will complete the final tests on the Space Launch System; the most powerful rocket built in advance of the 2020 mission.
As we look at these accomplishments and hear about our commercial space mission this morning, we also need to look at the challenges of maintaining our leadership role. Other nations are maturing their space capabilities and could – and the United States need to keep pace. I appreciate the administration’s focus on maintaining the nation’s focus on space, but the budget request they put forward undermines this goal. We need to make sure that there are resources and the budget seems to cut some of the very programs we need to keep this leadership.
A prime example is the International Space Station. It has been successful and other countries are developing their own space stations. So we see the administration proposing ending funding for the space station by 2025, so maybe the witnesses can speak to that today. Standing up commercial space capabilities takes a long time, and after years of longer initial planning by the commercial crew program, we need to continue these efforts. We cannot have a gap in what is the space capabilities as other nations are looking in the same area.
The administration’s proposed budget cuts are concerning on a number of fronts. For starters, cutting funding to the enhanced upper stage, the component of space launch systems that will enable long term goals of the program, is problematic. Also, the administration is proposing to cancel the Earth Science Mission and zero out the funding of the Office of STEM Engagement. NASA is uniquely positioned to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, and canceling relatively low-dollar education programs, I think, is short sighted.
So all of these cuts, I’m sure last year Congress rejected most of them, I expect that Congress will see the wisdom of rejecting them again. Nonetheless, it is important to bring up that we have to make the right prioritization of these programs if we want to continue these missions going forward. So I look forward to discussing these this morning, Mr. Chairman. Thank you again for calling the hearing and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses in their leadership role on these important issues.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Jim BridenstineAdministratorNational Aeronautics and Space Administration
Mr. Kevin O’ConnellDirector, Office of Space CommerceDepartment of Commerce