Public-Private Partnerships: The Way to Space

Fisher Smith

By Fisher Smith, NSS Legal Fellow

In recent years, private companies have begun to push the boundaries of outer space, making it more affordable to launch rockets and developing new technologies that have revolutionized the industry. SpaceX, Blue Origin, Nanoracks, Rocket Lab, and Made in Space (now Redwire), among others, have changed the space industry dramatically. As recently as the early 2000’s, the only way to launch payloads into space was to go through governmental entities such as NASA, European Space Agency, Roscosmos and the China National Space Administration (CNSA). Today, the U.S. has been leading the way in purchasing launch services from private companies, and the private companies themselves work with other companies and investors to launch non-government payloads.

However, while these companies have accomplished much, there is still a need for an organized, governmental role in space development. Government involvement is necessary to ensure that the public maintains access to space and to advance the frontier of development beyond Earth. For instance, consider NASA and the American government. NASA’s ongoing scientific efforts are characterized by four key strategic goals: 1) expanding knowledge of our human species, 2) creating “sustainable long-term exploration and utilization” of outer space for the whole species, 3) addressing national challenges and aiding in economic development, and 4) continuing to optimize and develop their capabilities and operations within outer space. NASA’s ongoing commitments are to develop outer space and technology for the United States and for humanity as a whole. Their missions of exploration, scientific discovery and technological development have continued to advance humanity.

The fundamental structure of democratic governments such as those in the U.S. allow regular people to influence and participate in space development policy. People can vote for and petition their elected representatives to promote certain policies for the use of outer space, or join non-profits such as the National Space Society (NSS) to represent their views. This allows anyone to have a say in our development of outer space.

While private companies are pushing the boundaries of outer space, NASA and the US government have the ability to create policies that encourage more rapid and beneficial development in space. The National Space Society (NSS) advocates that the government promote policies for infrastructure development and reusability for outer space expansion. The successful model of public-private partnerships that has been used to transport both cargo and crew to the International Space station via the commercial purchase of launch services should be extended throughout cis-lunar space. Further, through NASA, NSS recommends that the government continue to promote international cooperation. The international community has cooperated in the past, particularly with the International Space Station. By continuing this partnership, multiple States can contribute to outer space exploration and development, and private organizations can continue provide vital services at lower cost, allowing government funds to accomplish more in space.

While past developments in outer space have been led by governments and governmental space agencies, that is no longer true. Private organizations have reignited space exploration and provided a way for humanity to continue to expand and revolutionize technology needed to expand beyond Earth, without many of the hurdles, including cost and regulations, that sometimes hamper government advances. But, the path to the stars is not paved by one or the other. Instead, cooperation, between States, governmental agencies, and private companies, will ensure that we continue to push our boundaries into space.

A detailed look at NSS recommendations for NASA and governmental actions to propel humanity into the stars can be found in the NSS Position Paper on U.S. Development and Settlement of the Moon and Near Earth Asteroids.


About NSS Legal Fellow Fisher Smith

Fisher Smith is a second year law student at the University of Mississippi where he is currently part of the Space Law concentration. Additionally, he is part of the Ole Miss Trial Advocacy Board and a junior staff editor on the Air and Space Law Journal at the university. Since he was a child, Fisher has always been interested in science and outer space. Whether the thrilling adventures of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, the exploration of the cosmos by Captain Kirk in Star Trek, or the boundless possibilities created in Isaac Asimov’s stories, outer space has been a world of wonder for Fisher. Throughout his undergraduate studies at Rhodes College, Fisher focused his Political Science and International Studies interests towards outer space policies; these research interests showed him that by cooperating as a multinational community, humanity can harness outer space to improve conditions here on Earth. This interest in outer space possibilities led him to the Air and Space Law society at Ole Miss, and he hopes to use these motivations to aid the NSS mission.


Picture of National Space Society

National Space Society

1 thought on “Public-Private Partnerships: The Way to Space”

  1. Mr Smith,
    Congratulations on your taking the lead in Space Law. Your writings outline the critical nature of collaborative efforts among US government entities and private entities. The delivery of US Postal mail via air was the harbinger of large scale air transport. In a like manner, the 400,000 that supported the successes of Apollo 8 and 11 now are the shoulders of giants that the current LEO explorers stand upon. Space cannot be siloed. Spin-offs will be multilateral as all can learn from the passionate and those willing to listen and demonstrate patience. As a surgeon, our patients will benefit disproportionately in this scientific sharing. Benchtop to analogue to LEO to Lunar will come back to the bedside. Hopefully soon. The Nutritional Biochemistry Scientist and engineers in their work on SANS already are impacting our patient cares.
    Thank you for your skillful writing and best wishes in your young and soon to be successful career.
    M. Mark Melin MD FACS
    M Health Fairview
    Adjunct Associate Professor, Dept of Surgery, University of Minnesota


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