International Collaboration, Private Partnerships Key to Future of Space Exploration

Elliott School faculty and space policy experts Scott Pace and Pascale Ehrenfreund discussed the need to foster sustainable space initiatives.

Shaping S&T Policy: US & International Perspectives
Clockwise: Nicholas Vonortas, Scott Pace, Sharon Squassoni, Henry Hertzfeld and Pascale Ehrenfreund.
February 16, 2021

By Kristen Mitchell

American space policy initiatives should be grounded in fundamental values such as rule of law, democracy, human rights and free enterprise in order to build and support sustainable policies, said Scott Pace, George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs professor and former executive secretary of the White House’s National Space Council.

“It’s not enough to be aligned with a particular administration or particular congress,” he said. “It requires an alignment with enduring national interests that can have bipartisan support.”

Dr. Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute, participated in a Wednesday webinar focused on space policy, alongside research professor Pascale Ehrenfreund, president of the International Astronautical Federation and former chair of the executive board of the German Aerospace Center. Both space policy experts spoke to the university community about the importance of international collaboration and public-private partnerships in science and exploration during some of their first public remarks since leaving government service. 

The event was sponsored by the Elliott School's Institute for International Science and Technology Policy and the Space Policy Institute.

Dr. Pace, who joined the National Space Council in 2017, identified two major accomplishments in space policy during the last administration. The first was a 2017 directive for a U.S.-led collaboration with private-sector and international partners to send astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972— an important step for continued human exploration of the solar system. The second was a 2018 directive that sought to reduce the threat of orbital debris and establish the United States as an international leader in space traffic management.

The realm of space policy has changed over the past several decades, Dr. Pace said. The space environment is more globalized and more democratized with more states, private sector and non-state actors involved. Commercial and international partners are “quite integral” to U.S. national interests, he said.

“Leadership today is not about what we do by ourselves, but what can we do that gets other people to want to come with us in shaping the environment,” he said. 

Dr. Ehrenfreund highlighted important scientific and space policy collaborations in Europe, particularly those that monitor the Earth’s changing climate. Europe should be doing more to support and fund young entrepreneurs interested in space technology, she said. 

“Europe is very risk averse,” she said. “It is important to foster partnership between commercial and institutional partners, as well as non-space actors. You have to have really good innovation ecosystems in order to foster entrepreneurship.”

Alyssa Ayres, recently appointed dean of the Elliott School, applauded the “deeply specific and relevant conversation” of this event. It is critically important to emphasize and highlight how important science and technology issues are in the broader landscape of international affairs, she said. 

“S&T policies that enhance innovation are important for U.S. leadership and the well-being of our economy,” she said. “To meet the urgency of today’s threats...it is just absolutely vital that we have international affairs practitioners with the needed backgrounds in science and technology.”

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Dr. Pace is director of the GW Space Policy Institute and has had a long career in space policy.