By Senior space writer
updated 10/7/2006 5:13:03 PM ET 2006-10-07T21:13:03

President Bush has authorized a sweeping new national space policy, green-lighting an overarching document that governs the conduct of America’s space activities.

The new policy supports not only an exploration agenda for the moon, Mars and beyond, but also responds to the post-9/11 world of terrorist actions, such as the need for intelligence-gathering internal and external to the United States.

U.S. assets must be unhindered in carrying out their space duties, the Bush space policy says, stressing that “freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power.”

Without fanfare, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP, on Friday rolled out the National Space Policy — a document that supersedes a September 1996 version of the directive. Bush signed off on the new space policy on Aug. 31.

A 10-page unclassified version of the U.S. National Space Policy was posted Friday on the OSTP Web site.

Across the solar system
The White House document spells out U.S. space policy goals, including the implementation of a sustained “innovative human and robotic exploration program” geared to extending human presence across the solar system.

As a civil space guideline, the policy calls upon NASA to “execute a sustained and affordable human and robotic program of space exploration and develop, acquire, and use civil space systems to advance fundamental scientific knowledge of our Earth system, solar system, and universe.”

The Bush space policy supports use of space nuclear power systems to “enable or significantly enhance space exploration or operational capabilities.” The document adds that utilization of nuclear power systems “shall be consistent with U.S. national and homeland security, and foreign policy interests, and take into account the potential risks.”

The policy highlights an interagency approval process for space launch and in-space use of nuclear power sources.

Risk from orbital debris
Among a wide range of topics — including commercial space policy and international cooperation — the Bush space policy includes an orbital debris section. It labels human-made space junk as posing a risk to continued reliable use of space-based services and operations, including the safety of space travelers and property in space and on Earth.

“The United States shall seek to minimize the creation of orbital debris by government and non-government operations in space in order to preserve the space environment for future generations,” the space policy explains.

In regards to curbing space debris, the document encourages foreign nations and international organizations to also take steps toward debris minimization.

Freedom of action
For 50 years, the U.S. has led the world in space exploration, developing “a solid civil, commercial, and national security space foundation,” the document notes.

Slideshow: Month in space: Future frontiers “Space has become a place that is increasingly used by a host of nations, consortia, businesses, and entrepreneurs,” the space policy states. “In this new century, those who effectively utilize space will enjoy added prosperity and security and will hold a substantial advantage over those who do not.”

Additionally, the Bush space policy is designed to “ensure that space capabilities are available in time to further U.S. national security, homeland security, and foreign policy objectives.”  Moreover, a fundamental goal of the policy is to “enable unhindered U.S. operations in and through space to defend our interests there.” 

The policy calls upon the secretary of defense to “develop capabilities, plans, and options to ensure freedom of action in space, and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries.”

Overhead intelligence
In a section called “Space-related Security Classification,” the new space policy lists several unclassified facts, such as: The U.S. government conducts satellite photoreconnaissance that includes a near real-time capability, as well as overhead signals-intelligence collection.

Among a number of tasks, U.S. government photoreconnaissance is used to “image the United States and its territories and possessions, consistent with applicable laws, for purposes including, but not limited to, homeland security.”

The Director of National Intelligence is charged by the policy to “provide a robust foreign space intelligence collection and analysis capability that provides timely information and data to support national and homeland security.”

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