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December 9, 2020

In support of the President’s policy, USGS and NASA will leverage their full technological abilities to meet the nation’s growing environmental information needs.

The 2020 National Space Policy, recently released by The White House, provides guidance for America’s civil, commercial and national security strategic investments in space. The National Space Policy is the President’s direction to U.S. Government departments and agencies to advance the interests of the United States in space for the benefit of the American people. The National Space Policy sets out the Nation’s commitment to leading in the responsible and constructive use of space, promoting a robust commercial space industry, returning Americans to the Moon and preparing for Mars, and leading in exploration, and defending U.S. and allied interests in space.

Federal agencies such as the USGS already exemplify many of the Policy’s core principles. The USGS supports America’s commitment to and global leadership in the responsible use of space, freedom of operations, and the advancement of government and commercial use of this increasingly important domain.

“The National Space Policy represents a real step forward in advancing an all-of-government approach to space exploration, maximizing benefits for all Americans,” said USGS Director and former NASA astronaut Dr. Jim Reilly. “The Department of the Interior, through the USGS, contributed to the policy’s development and is already using its specialized in-house expertise to actively pursue its principles and goals.”

Highlights of the National Space Policy:

  • Expand America’s economic activity in space by promoting and incentivizing the United States commercial space sector to develop and grow global and domestic markets for U.S. space goods and services, enhance the international competitiveness of U.S. companies, and strengthen and preserve the nation’s position as the country of choice for space commerce.
  • Uphold and help ensure the right of all nations to use space responsibly and peacefully through the development, implementation and demonstration of diplomatic, economic and security capabilities to identify, attribute, and resolve behaviors that threaten this right.
  • Establish in collaboration with our industry and government partners a safe, sustainable and predictable space environment. Through the development and promotion of common standards, best practices and responsible behaviors for space activities, we can improve the collection, sharing and use of information related to space objects and debris, and mitigate the risk orbital debris poses to critical space systems and humanity.
  • Increase assurance and fortify the resilience of space-enabled components of national critical functions against purposeful interference like cyber-attacks and harmful manipulation, through the fielding, exercising and employment of materiel, non-materiel, space and non-space capabilities.
  • Improve the quality of life for all humanity through the cultivation, maturation, and application of space–enabled technologies to civil, scientific and economic disciplines to include: positioning, navigation and timing; search and rescue services; agricultural applications; Earth and space resource discovery, management and utilization; space and Earth weather monitoring, environmental monitoring and prediction; disaster response and recovery; planetary defense; and basic science.

The USGS will further the policy’s goals through its wide-ranging activities in satellite observations, Earth and space science, and related critical resource assessments on the Earth and beyond.

“The USGS plays a key role in America’s space exploration efforts, from mapping Earth’s critical minerals, monitoring hazards, mapping critical environments, and characterizing our lands and resources,” said Reilly. “In addition, we continue to support our NASA colleagues in extra-terrestrial mapping of the Moon and Mars and provide mapping support for those missions, the latest of which is the Perseverance Rover set to land on Mars on February 18 next year.”

The USGS, in collaboration with other government agencies and the private sector, is working to deliver a truly integrated space-based data system to more fully characterize the Earth and provide essential information to help land managers and policymakers make informed decisions about our natural resources and environment. Utilizing space to the fullest will continue to be a priority for our agency as we work across government and the private sector to deliver the best and most economical information to our Nation.

The policy supports the following continued USGS activities to advance the use of space technology for the Nation’s benefit:

Image of Landsat 8 over the US
Image of Landsat 8 over the U.S. (Public domain.)
  • As the Nation’s premier Earth system science agency, the USGS will continue its operation of the Landsat series of satellites, which have provided nearly 50 years of high-quality, global observation of the Earth’s land surfaces, surface waters, and coastal areas. Landsat and related USGS science provide unique and indispensable information for understanding changes in land cover and land use, accurate monitoring of water resources and ecosystem health, improving agricultural productivity, assessing the availability of energy and critical mineral resources, supporting disaster risk reduction and response, shedding light on the role of environment and wildlife in human health issues, and understanding the effects of climate variability.
  • The USGS will continue its partnership with NASA to launch the next Landsat mission, Landsat 9, in late 2021. And under the Sustainable Land Imaging partnership, the two agencies are working closely together to develop Landsat 9’s successor. USGS scientists and their many external partners will continue to utilize Landsat and continue our efforts at inclusion of other Earth observations systems including the private sector to better characterize the Earth system as a whole.
  • The USGS will continue its leadership of the interagency Civil Applications Committee which provides for the use of classified and commercial Earth observations to support effective land and resource management, environmental and scientific studies, hazards/disaster management, and other endeavors to support decision makers in our government.
  • The USGS will continue its collaboration with NASA and NOAA to provide the public needed information on solar magnetic storm intensity. Supporting USGS infrastructure is critical to keeping the Nation’s electrical grid running smoothly during intense geomagnetic storms.
  • Elsewhere beyond Earth, USGS’s planetary mapping and critical resource assessment expertise will support the Nation’s continued solar system exploration and human settlement of the Moon and Mars. Since 1963, the USGS has collaborated with NASA to support human space travel through information products derived from of planetary geoscience, cartography, and remote sensing.

In all these activities, the USGS will leverage new commercial and international space capabilities in partnerships to deliver actionable information at scales and timeframes relevant to decision makers. 

By working directly with data users, resource managers and decision makers to better understand their evolving needs, USGS and their industry, academic and government partners can guide the future direction and development of Earth observing space systems to deliver the best possible results.

America’s continued reinvestment in building a vast resource of innovative minds and domestic manufacturing capacity will help ensure that America remains the global leader in space exploration and innovative space technology.

For more information on the National Land Imaging Progam:

Landsat 8 images of the LNU Complex fires, August 25, 2020
The National Space Policy serves as the foundation and guides the Nation’s space interests. The Landsat Earth observing satellites, operated by the USGS and NASA, provide critical information and data to emergency responders, land and resource managers, and scientists who use the imagery to safeguard and protect lives, property and the nation’s natural resources. These fires (top picture) were captured during the day by Landsats 7 and 8, in natural color bands of the visible spectrum. Landsat sensors also record infrared wavelengths (bottom picture) revealing burn scars and active fires. Natural color images show smoke, wind direction, and fire proximity to nearby communities. Infrared scenes emphasize each fire's growing footprint.  Photo Credit: USGS Landsat 7&8 imagery acquired on August 25, 2020.  (Public domain.)

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