Los Angeles, CA, May 20, 2003 – The Space Frontier Foundation hailed the new U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Policy released by the White House, and challenged NASA to implement the policy by creating a fund for commercial data purchase.
“We assume that when the White House says all federal agencies should purchase such data, that includes NASA,” said the Foundation’s Rick Tumlinson. “NASA should establish a ‘Near Frontier Fund’ to purchase images of the Earth, Moon, and nearby asteroids, which are accessible to private enterprise. This will free up money for NASA’s own missions to the Far Frontier – Mars and beyond. After all, if the Pentagon can purchase satellite images of Saddam’s palaces from private companies, why can’t NASA purchase images of the Moon and asteroids?”
The new policy, recently released by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), makes private enterprise the preferred source of satellite imagery and data for all Federal agencies, allowing government imaging programs to focus on needs that cannot currently be met by the private sector. The Foundation noted that commercial satellites have already done fly-by maneuvers past the Moon, and many asteroids are equally accessible. It also points to several U.S. firms that are poised to launch lunar missions if a commercial incentive can be found – exactly what such data purchases would provide. The Foundation believes purchasing lunar and asteroid data would also answer the mandate of NASA’s charter to “seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.”
“Communications satellites and expendable launch vehicles also used to be strictly government enterprises, but once they were turned over to the private sector they created multi-billion-dollar industries,” said Foundation Executive Director Tony DeTora. “Of course I think NASA will follow the President’s new policy, as the Administrator wouldn’t want to compete with an emerging industry in remote sensing. In fact, I expect NASA to embrace the spirit of this policy and look to commercial solutions for image and data collection of the Moon and asteroids.”
The Foundation congratulated the White House for saving taxpayer dollars with its decision. The group urged NASA to let its scientists create lists of targets and data they want, establish a price list for the data, and create a Near Frontier Fund to pay for it upon delivery.
Data purchase is a proven, market-based approach that NASA can employ in other areas as well, the Foundation pointed out. For instance, NASA has financed a number of suborbital demonstrators, such as the X-33 and X-34, that have failed. Private industry is now building suborbital rocketplanes. NASA could use the data purchase approach to buy flight-test data for reusable rockets from commercial companies.