by Ken Hodgkins
SpaceWatch.Global asked its friends, staff and contributors to review 2020 and provide an outlook into 2021. These personal reviews are being published during the holiday season. This is the review of Ken Hodgkins, former Director of the U.S Department of State’s Office for Space and Advanced Technology.
Never in your wildest dreams would you look back at the beginning of the dark days when COVID-19 was thrusted upon the global community and now say the space enterprise writ-large is alive and well. It is a true testament to the nimble, flexible, cooperative and innovative spirit that has embodied the space age since its dawning. Here is a sample of what we have after a confusing and tumultuous year:
- The UAE, the U.S. and China sending missions to Mars;
- China and Japan returning to Earth lunar and asteroid samples;
- India announcing a forward leaning government commitment to privatizing its space sector;
- SpaceX becoming the first private company to put people into orbit launching from Florida since the Shuttle program ended in 2011and returning them to Earth safely;
- Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic charging forward with their vision to make space accessible to all;
- Private companies contracting with NASA for lunar sample purchases;
- The UN Outer Space Committee reasserting its role as the premier UN body for the peaceful uses of outer space and maintaining the principle of political consensus which is so critical;
- Major national policy announcements setting the stage for a spirited and informed international discussion on principles for a permanent presence on the Moon, the use of crucial enabling technologies for humans travelling to the Moon and Mars and remaining there safely;
- In depth discussions on international frameworks for commercial exploitation of the resources of outer space, the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies;
- 20 years of continuous human presence on the International Space Station;
- Announcements for point-to-point transportation concepts traversing the realm of outer space but not remaining there and sparking a debate on the applicability of space law and air law;
- Multiple potential launching states prepared to set the economic, technological and policy frameworks for making access to space more flexible and affordable;
- The international scientific, government and commercial sectors taking all means necessary to remain interconnected at a global level; and
- The growing recognition that civil society is more important than ever to bring us through the chaos of the past year.
In the light of the new landscape which has been left for us to reflect upon for lessons learned and how we can be informed for the future, it is time that we make an on-course correction. The space enterprise has evolved in significant ways since the dawning of the space age but never more so than over the past year. SpaceWatch.Global has offered over the year a platform for a unique presentation of views that, in their totality, give the reader a rich foundation for consideration of what we can shape for 2021.
Aside from budgetary, programmatic and technological decisions that might be made over the next year, civil society must take this opportunity to assert their role through bottom-up avenues to consolidate the gains achieved in 2020. Highly motivated entrepreneurs and the younger space generation can be a leading light in setting a common vision for the space enterprise that sets a global agenda not driven by the vagaries of domestic and international politics.
When the inevitable collective sigh of relief overtakes us after casting away the old year ushering in a new one, we should immediately resume the task of forging a new paradigm for international space collaboration and cooperation. As alluded to in past writings in SpaceWatch.Global and other fora let a coalition of link-minded begin evolving around a set of bedrock principles defining the space enterprise and its relevance to the global common good. The reservoir of intellectual discourse and learned writing is by no means lacking. It is here for the taking at every available bend in the road or shall we say at every orbit. Government driven technological and commercial imperatives have shaped the emergence of space policy and law as a unique realm with no real precedent as is the case with the maritime and air domain. This has set into motion a blend of governments and the civil society either acting in concert or pursuing their own imperatives that has given us a full menu of international and domestic laws and regulations that create the framework within which the space enterprise has flourished. The major weakness of this decades old paradigm is the reality that governments are not capable of keeping up with nor anticipating the rapid evolution of technologies and innovations which is a herculean task in and of itself.
So, as we enter a new year, which we all hope to be prosperous, peaceful and safe, consider the following cross-cutting guiding concepts (of course there is room for more) that all actors in the space enterprise contemplate for an exciting 2021. These would be the need for:
- Fair and Equal Governance
- Sustainability of the Space Environment
- Use of Space Systems for Sustainability on Earth
- Freedom of Scientific Inquiry and Data Exchange
- Permissive International and Domestic Frameworks for Civil Society
- Wisdom and Lessons Learned for the Next Generation of Space Entrepreneurs
At the beginning of 2012 we were faced with the possibility of inheriting a heap of ashes, but the space community created a global Phoenix that will continue to thrust humanity to unlimited heights.
Ken Hodgkins is the President of International Space Enterprise Consultant (ISEC) LLC, and former Director of the U.S Department of State’s Office for Space and Advanced Technology.