Lost in Space? NASA and the Changing Public-Private Eco-System in Space
31 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2016
Date Written: November 8, 2016
U.S. public activities in space directed via NASA are undergoing change. While NASA has historically been able to drive market creation, through its procurement policy (which is much weaker in Europe), the past decade has seen a visible shift in US space policy, away from NASA-directed developments in low-Earth orbit (LEO) towards an ecosystem with a mix of private, not-for-profit, and public actors in LEO. This has fundamentally changed NASA’s role from an orchestrating/directing role, to a more ‘facilitating’ one driven by commercialization needs. This shift in mission and approach has ramifications for the LEO ecosystem as well as NASA’s innovation policy, which has previously centred on clearly defined “mission-oriented” objectives, such as putting a man on the moon or creating the shuttle fleet. Such objectives required ‘active’ innovation policy whereby NASA both funded and ‘directed’ the innovation, within its walls and with its partners. The emerging multi-actor ecosystem approach has involved a more open-ended objective that does not have a unified nor clearly defined end-game. In this situation, NASA’s ability to shape activities in a direction in line with its mission will depend on its relationships with other members in the system. The rise of new actors in the space eco-system, and new relationships between them, presents interesting challenges for innovation policy informed by an Innovation System approach. In this paper, we critique the market failure approach of public intervention in markets and describe further work to be done in the innovation systems literature - more focus on the interactions between agents (and the type of agents) as complimentary to the dominant focus on funding programmes in innovation systems. In this paper, we present the evolving processes of NASA’s engagement in building a low-earth orbit economy to draw out case specific insights into a public agency shifting its mission to incorporate approaches to facilitate the market creation policy. The paper focuses on the way that NASA structures its new innovation policy, away from a classical supply side oriented R&D investment through NASA itself, towards a policy of orchestration and combination of instruments rather. We close the paper with a reflection on the ramifications of NASA’s approach to building a sustainable low-Earth orbit economic ecosystem.
Keywords: Space economy, market creation, innovation ecosystem, mission-oriented innovation policy, NASA
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