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Commerce in the Cosmos

News Type Public Address
By Joan Slattery Wall 

As commercial space projects continue to take flight, one has to wonder what Sen. John Glenn might say about challenges that surround extraterrestrial policymaking. 

Professor John Horack has a mission to find some answers to those questions. 

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“From a policy dimension,” Horack said, “commercial space is kind of the Wild West.” 

Horack, the Neil Armstrong Chair in Aerospace Policy in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs and College of Engineering’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, leads The Ohio State University’s research and innovation supporting Starlab, a multimillion-dollar, NASA-funded effort to develop a new generation of commercially based, human-occupied space stations in low-Earth orbit.

Ohio State will house a terrestrial copy of the George Washington Carver Science Park, currently operating on the International Space Station. The park, established by Voyager Space and its operating company Nanoracks, is expected to be a core element of Starlab, the companies’ proposed commercial space station designed with a $160 million award from NASA.  

The Ohio State University has been selected as the terrestrial analog for a science park on Starlab, a proposed commercial space station.

Mission simulations at the Ohio State terrestrial lab will enable scientists to test experiments and technology to ready them for flight on Starlab and then, back on Earth, further develop the findings for commercial development to drive them into the economy, education and training.  

A long list of unanswered policy questions, Horack said, accompanies commercial space. Among them: What regulations must participants follow? How will liability be handled? What environmental laws would apply? 

From the policy perspective we need a lot of good thinking, ideas, tests and proven experiments, and that needs to be in regulations that are not only just but enforceable.

Professor John Horack
Neil Armstrong Chair in Aerospace Policy in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs and College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

“That’s a good reason to have these conversations at the Glenn College, Moritz College of Law and Fisher College of Business, all here at Ohio State,” Horack said. 

Jeffrey Manber, co-founder and chairman of Nanoracks and president of international at Voyager Space, called Horack a noted and respected voice in the space community. 

“He has unparalleled expertise in the nexus between universities, companies and government organizations,” Manber said. “His experience on how to create a new research facility which is sustainable and meets the needs of industry and academy is invaluable.” 

Professor John Horack, Neil Armstrong Chair in Aerospace Policy, John Glenn College of Public Affairs and College of Engineering

A 30-year veteran of the spaceflight industry, Horack is a globally recognized leader in not only space policy but also space-based research, flight hardware development and program management. During his career, he has led commercial space endeavors for Teledyne Brown Engineering and worked for NASA for 20 years in positions leading science and mission systems, space transportation programs and projects, conducting science communications and serving as a mission scientist for the space shuttle program and a research scientist in high-energy astrophysics. 

“The whole commercial space paradigm is a huge change in national policy related to how the Department of Defense and NASA are going about fulfilling their space requirements for low-Earth orbit,” Horack said.

“The second piece of that is what it’s doing in terms of investment in the private sector, in startup companies, Horack added. We’re just about at a point now that within the next two years I expect private equity and private sector investment in new space companies will exceed NASA’s budget.” 

Manber said policy considerations for commercial space, and their progress, are a complicated matter considering the industry’s multiple markets and solutions that will require a mix of technology innovation and policy. Some issues: Earth observation, orbital debris and launch vehicle regulation. 

“On all of these myriad issues there has been wonderful progress,” he said. “On a macro level, we are now seeing the government behave more and more as a customer, buying services instead of building the hardware.

The biggest challenge today is finding the right mix of the public policy partnership between government and industry.

Jeffery Manber
Co-Founder and Chairman, Nanoracks, and President of International, Voyager Space

Space services remains an emerging marketplace and requires public funding,” Manber said. “But what percentage is public, and what is the relationship between the government agency and the private company, is a case-by-case decision.” 

The research conducted at the science park’s terrestrial lab will generate positive social, economic, educational and quality-of-life outcomes for a broad range of constituents, in particular, the Ohio agriculture community. Some of these benefits include research to preserve Ohio’s water quality, improve crop genetics and production efficiency, and enhance animal health for Ohio’s agricultural community. 

A Champion for Global Environmental Policy, Justice

Glenn College graduate Daniel V. Ortega-Pacheco helps develop sustainability in national and international policy, research, government, finance, nonprofit and agriculture sectors. 

Work on the terrestrial lab, a joint effort of Ohio State, the State of Ohio, JobsOhio and One Columbus, will begin this month with the Temporary Ground Analog Facility at Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Next year, the organizations plan to break ground on a stand-alone facility on the Ohio State Aerospace and Air Transportation Campus, home to the university airport, Ohio State’s Aerospace Research Center, Knowlton Executive Flight Terminal and Education Center, and a range of corporate, government and private aviation and aerospace activities. 

This new commercial space work at Ohio State, Horack said, augments Ohio’s already strong space imprint: the national security space anchor at Dayton Air Force Base and the aeronautics and space exploration technology development at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The terrestrial lab will set a global footprint of potential commercial customers and a more than 60-year discussion based at Ohio State.  

“This is a multigenerational program,” Horack said. “I expect some of our students that go through Ohio State today will be flying on Starlab tomorrow. When you get a chance to anchor something like that on your campus, you go for it.” 

Read the latest edition of Public Address, the Glenn College magazine.