Friday, May 04, 2018

NASA's Proposed Lunar Outpost Will Promote "US Preeminence in Cislunar Space" & US Aerospace Companies

         By Henry Stewart

NASA has released a "partnerships memo" on the proposed Deep Space Gateway/ Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), the planned follow-on program to the current International Space Station (ISS), which has been proposed as a staging point for future Moon and planetary exploration.

But the new memo doesn't say a lot to comfort the current ISS partners, which include the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities (Roscosmos), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

As outlined in the May 2nd, 2018 NASA "Gateway Memorandum for the Record: A statement from NASA regarding partnerships and development of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway," the next step in human spaceflight:
... is the establishment of US preeminence in cislunar space through the operations and the deployment of a US-led lunar orbital platform, “gateway.” 
Together with the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion (the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle, an American interplanetary spacecraft intended to carry crews to destinations at or beyond low Earth orbit), the gateway is central to advancing and sustaining human space exploration goals, and is the unifying single stepping off point in our architecture for human cislunar operations, lunar surface access and missions to Mars.
The gateway advances US industry development and ensures US global leadership in an emerging, critical domain allowing the US to chart the course by which others may join...
Most importantly for the international partners,"NASA will balance and serve as the integrator of the spaceflight capabilities and contributions of US commercial partners, our international partners and other US government entities."

In other words, "America First!"

It's not that there is anything wrong with a nation prioritizing domestic political considerations over international partnerships. This is historically what nations do.

That's why the 2018 Canadian Federal budget included so much more domestic funding for science and innovation.

It's also why current US president Donald Trump, with his calls for "America First," enjoys enough popularity to remain US president, no matter what other political baggage he might happen to possess.

But looking out for Canada isn't really the role of the space agency.

CSA is the federal government agency responsible for Canada’s contributions to the ISS, so it's got to be angling for a position on whatever comes afterwords, no matter what the real benefit might be for Canada.

Bureaucracies act to preserve themselves.

If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails. As outlined in the May 5th, 2017 Jan Wörner blog post, "Reflecting on Where We Stand Today," the head of the ESA believes strongly in teamwork and "intensive cooperation." According to Wörner, "my simple plea if we wish to continue to secure the success of flagship (ESA) programmes is to proceed as in recent years: with a focus on teamwork, clear terms of reference for the various actors, combining efficiency with knowledge, and not looking to secure any institutional or individual advantage. The European taxpayer and all Europe’s citizens deserve no less than that their publicly-financed organisations conduct themselves according to those principles." 

The CSA also acts as Canada's liaison with other national space agencies such as NASA, the ESA and a variety of non-governmental international organizations involved in space activities such as the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS, currently chaired by retired CSA director general David Kendall, who will wrap up his term in June 2018).

And when your only real tool for solving problems is a winning personality and the ability to forge partnerships with others, then the solution to every problem is to make a new friend.

But sometime the cost of friendship is high.

Now that the Trump Administration and NASA have seen fit to appraise us of the cost of participating in the proposed Lunar outpost, we might want to take a look at one or two proposals designed to promote Canadian preeminence and highlight Canadian aerospace firms.

At some point, unless we find an area to become or remain "preeminent" in, the US and most others, will stop asking for our help.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer

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