Space is a national security priority. China and Russia are working hard to expand into the final frontier, leaving us vulnerable to numerous dangers. As a former Ranking Member of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, I know it’s imperative for us to build up the U.S. Space Force to meet the challenges ahead.

Our military stresses access to space is vital to America’s national security, intelligence efforts, treaty verification, and the economy. Allowing China and Russia to gain the upper hand would imperil our interests. This is why we must be vigilant in how we develop our military space capabilities and who we work with to fortify our security. We cannot risk wasting mission success and timeliness on unreliable technology can allow our enemies to gain an advantage over us.

The Ukraine war proves why space is critical to our national security. Our satellite technology has provided crucial assistance to Ukrainians on the battlefield, ensuring the Eastern European state can defend itself. Having this power provides the winning edge in modern warfare. This edge drives our enemies to develop counter-space offensive weapons, from ground-level orbital lasers to blind our satellites to missiles that take them out of the sky.

Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are all developing this tech to counteract America’s space dominance. Just imagine if our enemies had the upper hand in low-earth orbit. The world would be a far more dangerous place for ordinary Americans.

The most crucial project ensuring America remains the world’s preeminent space power is the National Security Space Launch program. This initiative procures contracts–including for top military satellites–that make government space launches more inexpensive and more reliable. The program is designed to maintain our nation’s continued access to space–and it’s in greater demand than ever.

That is why it’s so concerning that the Space Force has loosened bidding restrictions for Phase 3 of this important program.

Following years of lobbying from billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and others, the Space Force recently converted the program into a dual-lane launch approach, with one lane of the program becoming more open to newer commercial companies.

I have always been a strong proponent of increasing competition in the American space industry. In fact, when in Congress, I aggressively pushed for passage of the bill that effectively stopped the government monopoly on space launches and created the new era of private spaceflight this country realizes today.

SpaceX, United Launch Alliance

However, the Space Force designed its Phase 3 changes to the NSSL to benefit companies that still need to finish developing their launch vehicles. With companies like SpaceX (one of the companies that our private spaceflight bill helped shepherd into the marketplace), and the United Launch Alliance already possessing reliable and effective launch vehicles, the federal government cannot in good conscience risk mission security by choosing companies that have promised but not yet delivered their competing products.

Some of the companies in question have already delayed their first launches by a matter of years. Given how common delays are in the industry, there is certainly no guaranteeing that these products will be ready to service the NSSL on time — and even if they are, there is no way of knowing how reliable they will be.

Everyone wants these companies to succeed, and we have every reason to believe they will. Their time will come, but that time is not now.

The space race is the great battle of the 21st century. America must win it. Our nation must be proactive in defending the final frontier. We can’t jeopardize America’s assured access to space by adding uncertainty and questions of reliability into the warfighting domain of the future. We must ensure we invest in the best options available to deliver the best results for the American people. It’s what the U.S.’s national security needs and demands.

Nick Lampson is a former Democratic Congressman from Texas who served as the Ranking Member of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee.

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