[ExI] Should the US Have a Military Presence in Space?

Adrian Tymes atymes at gmail.com
Tue Jun 26 04:01:24 UTC 2018

On Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 9:15 AM,  <spike at rainier66.com> wrote:
> From: extropy-chat <extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org> On Behalf Of
> Adrian Tymes
> Sent: Monday, June 25, 2018 8:56 AM
> To: ExI chat list <extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org>
> Subject: Re: [ExI] Should the US Have a Military Presence in Space?
>>…The Air Force doesn't build its own planes, missiles, or any of that.  I
>> fail to see what a Space Force would actually build that the Air Force does
>> not now build.  (Small test satellites, maybe.  Large satellites or
>> spacecraft, or launch vehicles, no.)  Adrian
> Why not?  I know they don’t now, but why not?

In short, because governments on average inherently suck at building
useful stuff, relative to private industry.

Why does one build anything?  Either because the result is expected to
be useful in some way, or because the act of building is itself
expected to be useful.

The former is the traditional type most people first think of.  You
build a car because you expect to drive it.  You build a statue
because you expect to show it off.  You build an orbital habitat
because you expect people (perhaps including yourself) to live there.

The latter covers craftsman-type "toy" projects, such as most model
rocketry, where the objective is to learn to build something.  It also
covers jobs programs, where even if what you're building proves
useless, causing the employment of a bunch of people is politically

Unfortunately, most large government programs are hijacked for
short-term political capital by the latter justification, which
immunizes them from being kept useful.  But in corporations, it is
rare (though not entirely unheard of, especially in large
corporations) for there to be that much political capital, thus their
projects are kept focused on being actually useful.

The hype around space projects means there is a lot more political
capital to be gained from them.  This, combined with the immaturity of
space technology (relative to most other industrial sectors, such as
automobiles or planes), mean that government-directed space programs
are about keeping politicians in office, far more than about building
stuff people will actually use.

Consider GPS.  Initially a military asset, and still maintained as
one, but the vast majority of its utility has come from commercial
applications just riding along on the signals.  We could continue to
fight wars without too much degradation - for a short while - if we
lost GPS, but consider the impact to our economy in that case - and
specifically to the industrial logistics networks that route supplies
so ammunition, food, guns, vehicles, and other such things can be
manufactured in quantity for the military.

Or consider the Space Shuttle.  At first it was a decently reusable
space truck, but then stakeholders from many branches of the
government tried to insert their own political demands, resulting in
something that was more rebuldable than reusable, and eventually
retired after the economic consequences became unavoidable.  A private
company would have no such stakeholders, and be focused on making a
truly reusable space truck - so (assuming sufficient competence and
resources) it would do just that.  Notice the direction many of our
large private space programs are headed, now that they have been able
to get started (mainly by there being enough non-government space
customers that these private companies no longer exist solely at the
whim of government funding agencies).

Also consider why communism fell.  For all their attempts at five year
plans and the like, they were simply too vulnerable to hijacking
projects for short term political gain as opposed to building what
they would actually need in five years.  Despite their vast land and
natural wealth, they could not build their industry as fast as we
could, leaving Reagan an opening to tip them over the edge of
sustainability by diverting enough of their funds into an arms race
(which we could afford much better than they could).

More to the point, consider the Space Launch System - much-delayed,
yet to launch anything, and over budget (because the point is to spend
money on jobs) - versus SpaceX's development - which has already
launched a bunch of stuff into space, and is now working on

Many in the Air Force know this, and want there to be stuff that will
actually help them with the missions they will actually have in 10 or
20 years.  They also see what doesn't happen with highly politically
visible projects such as their next-generation fighter.  Thus why they
leave building stuff to the commercial sector when they can (which is,
when there is a significant non-governmental use for the stuff too).

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