Issue #4(14) 2017 Astronautics

Enabling private sector success in space - SGAC perspective

Testing of the Made In Space 3D printer involved 400-plus parabolas of microgravity test flights.
Testing of the Made In Space 3D printer involved 400-plus parabolas of microgravity test flights.
Lauren Napier Space Law and Policy Project Group Co-Lead, Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC)

As we move towards better technology and bigger budgets for space activities, the commercial space industry has an opportunity to grow and develop into something more than just a contractor to governments. The private sector is booming at state and regional levels as a result of public- private partnerships and the beginnings of privately financed activity - but on the international stage it struggles to find a voice because, in no small part, nation-states still dominate international relations and law. If the private space sector is to succeed, it will need to foster dialogue with governments which, in turn, will need to find the balance between supporting industry with good policy and avoiding excessive regulation.

The United States’ private space sector is robust and flourishing, not only in its most visible components, with launch service providers like SpaceX and Orbital ATK, but in all facets of space exploration and utilisation.

This is largely due to the approach taken by the US government to support and regulate private investment in space under the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, wherein launch standards are based on ‘voluntary industry consensus standards’. Progress reports are being submitted to Congress every 30 months until December 2021 when findings will be revisited and fed into future US space policy.

Many private companies in the US rely on government support in the form of grants or contracts and the Act demonstrates a willingness by the US government to allow innovation in the private sector. In particular, NASA is dedicated to entrepreneurship in the private sector through a competitive grants system.

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