The White House released the US national space policy on 28 June, laying out President Barack Obama's vision for continued space exploration, including the expansion of international partnerships in space and sending a crew of Americans to an asteroid by 2025.

While Bush-era space policy took a more unilateral approach to US activities in space, the new policy emphasises international co-operation, particularly when it comes to sharing the costs and risks and space security issues.

Also bucking Bush policy, the USA now plans to extend US participation in the International Space Station to 2020 instead of cutting it off at 2015 - although the statement contained no mention of the Space Shuttle programme, which is still expected to end following a final launch in November.

Rather than piling more tasks on NASA, Obama intends to make space more of a diplomatic issue. "The secretary of state, after consultation with the heads of appropriate departments and agencies, shall carry out diplomatic and public diplomacy efforts to strengthen understanding of, and support for, US national space policies and programmes and to encourage the foreign use of US space capabilities, systems, and services," the policy statement says.

The 14-page document - a more sweeping look at the Obama administration's space goals originally presented in an April speech at the Kennedy Space Center - reaches well beyond NASA, shifting the US space agency's spaceflight focus from the Moon to visiting asteroids and Mars, and firmly establishing it as only one of a three-pronged approach to space, along with commercial and national security sectors.

The new policy calls for shifting "routine, operational space functions" from the government to commercial sector and developing government space systems "only when it is in the national interest and there is no suitable, cost-effective US commercial or, as appropriate, foreign commercial service or system that is or will be available".

Supporting, rather than competing with the commercial spaceflight industry is a vital part of the USA's future in space, Obama says.

"This policy is about the boundless possibilities of the future. That is why we seek to spur a burgeoning commercial space industry, to rapidly increase our capabilities in space while bolstering America's competitive edge in the global economy," he says.

Source: Flight International