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Study Finds U. S. Space Leadership Slipping

The United States remains the overall leader in space competitiveness, as measured against 14 other global powers, but its relative position has declined for a fifth straight year, as other countries enhance their capabilities, according to a new assessment from the Futron Corp., Futron’s 2012 Space Competitive Index: A Comparative Analysis of how Countries Invest in and Benefit from Space Industry.

The Bethesda, Md., based space consulting group found the U. S.slipping as it undergoes a major transitions in the field, particularly in human spaceflight, amid uncertainty over its long-term space priorities.

China, Japan, Russia and India, meanwhile, are showing healthy gains, with China surpassing the United States in numbers of annual rocket launches for the first time in 2012.

Space activities provide a substantial economic engine, according to Futron’s analysis. In addition, space activities foster national pride as well as advances in science and exploration.

Some nations seek domestic esteem and international respect from their space investments as well as enhanced national security. Others are more interested in the social benefits derived from satellite communications and imagery and the improved management of natural resources.

In the U. S., the transition is placing new responsibilities on the commercial sector for the transportation of professional astronauts and eventually passengers to low Earth orbit, while NASA pursues the development of the Space Launch System and Orion/Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for future human deep space exploration. However, the destinations and timelines beyond reaching a near Earth asteroid in 2025 remain uncertain.

The Futron study, which focused on 15 nations, found the U. S. first in numbers of spacecraft manufactured during the 10-year period ending in 2011, with  388, or 36 percent of the 1,086 produced globally.Russia trailed with 216, or 20 percent; Europe with 187, or 17 percent; and China with 99, or 9 percent.

On the launch front,Russia claimed 255 of the 640 successful launches accomplished around the world during the same 10-year period. The U. S.trailed with 191, or 30 percent of the total; China with 87, or 14 percent;Europe with 61, or 9 percent.

The findings come from a nine page executive summary of a more comprehensive proprietary report that Futron unveiled on Aug. 1.

Like the company’s earlier annual assessments, the latest looks across multi-year trends as well as 50 different qualitative and quantitative indicators that touch on competition across government, human capital and industrial prowess.

The new report adds Argentina, Australia, Iran, South Africa and Ukraine to the original lineup of countries that Futron assessed, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe Europe, India, Israel, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

Some of the highlights from the Futron study:

*Russia’s remains the world’s launch leader, and promises to retain that role in the near term thanks to its vital role in transporting astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, as well as the introduction of Soyuz launches from the European spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana. These strengths, however, are offset by weaknesses in retention of human capital talent.

*China performed a record number of launches in 2012, while increasing investment in technical education programs and civilian research institutes.

*Indiais enhancing its space-related technical education, while gradually progressing toward a completely self-reliant set of next generation launch vehicles.

*Japan, despite ongoing benefits from its policy reforms, is losing competitive ground relative to most other competitors, and can benefit from a greater focus on commercializing its industrial base.

*Iranhas made faster progress than any other newly emergent space nation. The tenor of Iran’s space program — civilian or military — will hinge on geopolitics. Other international players will have substantial power to influence the future focus of the Iranian space program.

*International collaboration is increasingly taking shape as a concerted space competitiveness strategy, especially among smaller nations.

 

 

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