Comments from industry insiders and a preliminary document leaked to the press suggest that the Trump administration’s passion for public-private partnerships may extend well beyond the new highways, bridges and airports the new president has been promising. So far beyond them, in fact, that there is talk of putting an astronaut back on the moon by the year 2020.
Over the past year and a half, Trump has occasionally spoken about reinvigorating the US space program, which mothballed its space shuttle program years ago, and hasn’t replaced it with an operational program to send astronauts to the international space station, much less to engage in deep space exploration.
However, in the absence of a strong government space program, a growing industry of small, private-sector corporations, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Orbital and others, have rushed into the void, offering cargo services and satellite launch services.
The Trump administration apparently wants to capitalize on the enthusiasm for commercial spaceflight by reorienting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration toward the “the large-scale economic development of space.”
That’s the language contained in a draft proposal obtained by Politico this week. The proposal envisions a future of private space stations in orbit around the earth as well as a push to establish outposts on the moon and a push to explore Mars.
Politico reports that the plan, developed by a Trump administration transition team, aims to “see private American astronauts, on private spaceships, circling the Moon by 2020; and private lunar landers staking out de facto ‘property rights’ for [Americans] on the Moon, by 2020 as well.”
The move envisioned in the draft would sharply challenge the NASA business model that has, over the years, tended toward reliance on major defense contractors undertaking decades-long projects with major contractual protections.
Instead, the government would force the “old space” companies to compete with industry newcomers in a results-based effort to sharply accelerate the development of new technologies. There may also be an effort afoot to create competition for the existing Space Launch System project, headed by Boeing, that is producing a huge “heavy-lift” rocket that would reach the moon and perhaps someday, Mars.
However, Alan Stern, chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation said this week that his members are less interested in horning in on an existing project as they are on what he described as synergies between their own technologies and those currently under development by NASA.