Colorado Springs: James Albaugh, president and chief executive of Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems division, has warned that the United States risks losing its leadership role in space if it does not reinvest in new space technologies over the next decade. He said the United States was in danger of losing the edge it held in space-related technologies without a major increase in funding.
"Today, we have ample warning," he said, referring to India and China by name. "We can clearly see our international competitors fast approaching in the rear view mirror."
Albaugh was speaking before an annual conference here called the National Space Symposium.
For the US space programme, Albaugh said, the next decade will be its "most crucial" since the 1950s as authorities debate on ways to fill the gap once the space shuttle is retired and new NASA launch technology becomes operational, and also as the US military scrambles to develop new technologies to protect space-based assets, such as satellites.
"We can't afford the so-called rebuilding years of our space capability," he said. "The next decade must be about reaffirming our leadership role in space."
Investing in new space propulsion technologies that will help reduce its costs and increase its efficiency will be critical in keeping the US space programme ahead of the competition, Albaugh said. "We must identify the enabling technologies that with commitment and openness to big ideas will allow us to take the next big bold step forward," he said. "In my view, propulsion is the great enabler."
Boeing is developing the Ares I rocket designed to launch astronauts into space after the retirement of the space shuttle. It will construct the upper stage and instrument unit avionics.
"The road back to the moon will be paved with commitment, leadership and innovation, and a government willing to step up and fund space innovation at levels that haven't been seen in decades," Albaugh said.
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has spent a declining or flat share of its gross domestic product on space. Its spending on space rose 3.4 per cent in 2007 from 2006.
In 2007, Integrated Defense Systems accounted for about $32 billion of Boeing's $66 billion in revenue overall.