2017 National Space Symposium

The Broadmoor Hotel, Colorado Springs, CO

Leanne Caret
Executive Vice President, The Boeing Company
President and Chief Executive Officer, Defense, Space & Security

April 4, 2017

Think about this: If Earth were the size of the globe (about 12 inches diameter in most classrooms), the Space Station would be about 3/8” away, and we’ve been there 304 times.  The moon would be 30 feet away and we’ve been there 9 times. And Mars . . . Mars would be 10 miles away – and we are on our way.

I come from a Boeing family. Both of my parents worked for the company. They actually met working at the Michoud Assembly Facility outside New Orleans, where the legendary Saturn V first stage was built. I grew up on Merritt Island, next to the Cape. And though I was too young to really remember or appreciate the launches my father took me to see as a child, I will always remember years later, building model rockets with him, learning about the principles of flight, and listening as he shared that part of his life with me. Once I was old enough to really appreciate what it was he did, I could understand for the first time his deeper connection to his work, which I saw so often during his career with the company.

Today, I have the honor of a lifetime, leading a team of nearly 50,000 men and women who come to work each day to continue that legacy of innovation with that same sense of purpose. I have always shared with my team that my number one source of inspiration comes from our customers, and from doing everything we can to support them in their missions. Their success makes this world a better, safer place.

So, how does that connect to the challenges and opportunities we have before us today?

When we think about the deeper purpose behind our vision at Boeing, we think about it in terms of four words: Connect, Protect, Explore, and Inspire. Those concepts span everything we do — in commercial and defense. But what is unique about space is that it is perhaps the one domain that encompasses all four of those lofty aspirations at the same time.

For our part at Boeing, we recently reaffirmed the importance of space in our own strategy by naming the satellite market and human space exploration as two of our six key focus areas for Defense, Space & Security.

All of which is to say that together with our customers, what we do in space has the power to do amazing things — to Connect, Protect, Explore and Inspire the world. 

The reality of our lives today is defined by staying connected. Of course, that connectivity is largely enabled through space systems. In the last 10 years, the demand for that connectivity has surged — not just in terms of the number of users or throughput of data, but in how indispensable space-enabled capabilities are to the routines we live out each day. That is true in both military and civilian contexts.

For example, with the recent addition of Wideband Global SATCOM-9 to that satellite constellation, the system gained with one spacecraft, ten times the bandwidth and capacity of the entire legacy communications system. With broadcast, multi-cast and point-to-point capabilities, what WGS-9, and other advanced digital payloads, are really offering us is the ability to connect, on a scale unlike anything we’ve ever seen.  

The possibility for many of these advancements began with the late Dr. Harold Rosen, who passed away earlier this year – a visionary, who saw the potential to connect humanity like never before. Dr. Rosen and his team made the world a smaller place with the launch of Syncom in 1963, a triumph of imagination and engineering genius.

In those days the challenges were primarily technical. For us today, some of the steps we must take to see the continuation of that legacy are not simply technical.

To ensure these all-important connections are available to more people, more affordably, and more reliably for the future, we must make the best use of the available spectrum, as new systems are being developed. 5G is the future of telecom, and to ensure it lives up to its promise and potential, we strongly endorse regulatory support for multi-use applications in that spectrum, including both terrestrial and satellite based systems.

Cost-effective global service delivery can only work through the seamless integration of ground-based and space-based networks. Satellites can play a critical role in bridging the “digital divide” and make broadband service available to everyone, especially those in rural or underserved areas. Staying connected in the future will take leadership in this area to coordinate spectrum arrangements that offer the greatest opportunity for all.

Through continued investment and innovation, next-generation satellite networks have the potential not only to support 10 to 100 times more devices, with near-zero latency and unmatched data rates, but to do so with 99.999 percent reliability and a 90 percent reduction in network energy use. That is inspiring.

But as I shared earlier – it isn’t just about technology. We live in a global environment, where other considerations matter.  For American satellite manufacturers like Boeing — and for many of our customers all around the world — the effective shuttering of the U.S. Export-Import bank has been a source of uncertainty and frustration for too long. Without a quorum, the bank cannot finance the deals that underwrite technological progress.

Several Boeing satellite deals have been lost or delayed as a result of Ex-Im being closed to our customers. Looking beyond Boeing, more than $30 billion in U.S. export sales are currently held up because Ex-Im does not have enough board members to approve transactions in excess of $10 million. Meanwhile, 85 foreign credit agencies continue to operate around the world, putting the United States at a disadvantage, precisely when investments in the future should be accelerated.

That figure represents just one segment of the broader economic reality of this industry. The global impact of the combined private sector and government investments in space represent $330 billion per year and hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs. Those are connections, too, that are worthy of consideration when we think about space.

And so, when I think about the power of space to connect the world, I consider both the literal connections we enable, and these more nuanced connections as well.

While “Connect” spans both commercial and military space, on the military side, there are additional factors when I think of the second of our four missions — Protect. 

Our national security assets operating in space make the world a safer place. They protect us. It is that simple.

But, the reality is anything but simple, as we all know. It is because of outstanding teamwork between industry and government that we can design, develop, deploy and rest easy because of the security these systems afford us. Our partnerships are essential.

At Boeing, we are especially proud of our near-two decade partnership with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency as prime contractor for Ground-based Midcourse Defense. Over that time, together, we have matured homeland defense since its infancy and continue to augment the system to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

That is only one example, but there are many. And as these systems grow in importance, the number of threats they face increases as well. That’s why, for me, “Protect” is such a huge part of industry’s mission in space. Like any system we build — whether it be a Chinook, a Minuteman ICBM, or an X-37 space vehicle — survivability is integral to the overall design, and we devote a lot of ongoing effort to improving survivability over time.

We remain just as committed to the safety of our astronauts, protecting them from the dangers associated with launch, reentry and the harsh and unforgiving environment of space.

The point is: durable, reliable systems are fundamental. As our military space systems grow in capability, they must also gain resiliency. And we cannot refrain from making progress in that direction.

This is difficult work. Making meaningful improvements requires significant investment, years of combined expertise, and ongoing collaboration. But that is what is required to meet the challenges of today and counter the threats of tomorrow. That’s a responsibility my team and I take quite personally.

The security and protections afforded to us by these systems are not highly visible or even widely known, but that doesn’t make them less critical to our warfighters or to our nation’s defense. What we do matters, and thanks to what we collectively have achieved in this area, we are able to enjoy our freedoms.

One of those freedoms is our ability to explore. When Neil DeGrasse Tyson spoke at this conference in 2012, he made a point that there hasn’t been a true space frontier since the 1970s, when Project Apollo drew to a close.

But now, just five years after Dr. Tyson made those remarks, I believe there is evidence to suggest that we have passed a turning point on the question of frontiers.

It is impossible to ignore the buzz of activity and anticipation around space exploration that has taken hold in the last several years. That’s not only true within industry – and with all sizes of companies getting involved, which is exciting to see – but also at NASA, which just last month saw Congress and the President reaffirm authorization of its current programs as well as Journey to Mars – for the first time since 2010. Reaffirming a national policy of human space exploration is a boost to all our collective efforts.

Thinking about all this activity, I would add to Dr. Tyson’s observation that what we really have are two distinct frontiers in human space exploration. One, of course, is what he was referring to – long-duration, pioneering journeys to new corners of the solar system.

But we are also on the cusp of realizing the true potential of a second frontier — the commercial frontier in low-Earth orbit.

Remember that while Apollo’s exploration of lunar destinations ended in 1972, it was project Apollo’s next step — the Apollo Soyuz Test Project and its historic rendezvous of U.S. and Soviet spacecraft in 1975 — that opened the gateway to the International Space Station’s development with the Space Shuttle, and to today’s parallel frontier of collaboration, research, and cooperation in low earth orbit.

This frontier represents the normalization of access to space and the imminent reality that regular travel to orbit will enable a new space economy supporting future generations of research, commercial operations, and even tourism.

Since the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down for the last time in 2011, we have seen how critical, assured access to space is for the United States, to retain its place as a global leader in this domain.

The advancements we’ve made in public-private partnerships through programs like Commercial Crew are significant steps toward routine access to low-Earth orbit and to the International Space Station. I am very excited about advances on our Commercial Crew spacecraft, the Boeing Starliner, which will return American astronauts to orbit on an American rocket from American soil. And, for the first time ever, Starliner will demonstrate the use of a commercially developed vehicle for reliable human transportation to space. This unique time in the history of Space Exploration was so perfectly highlighted earlier this year when we unveiled the Starliner spacesuit on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. It was unprecedented, engaging and fun.

But make no mistake: our progress on Starliner is serious. In February, we completed a successful parachute drop test. Just this week we achieved our first power-on test of the vehicle, and are looking forward to our first launch.

So, we’re getting closer to the commercialization of low-Earth orbit, thanks to progress we’ve made through commercial crew partnerships, the planned addition for a commercial airlock on the U.S. segment, and other advances.

But, we’re not there yet. For 16 years, the International Space Station has offered scientists a one-of-a-kind platform for exploration and investigation. Its benefits as a National laboratory include findings in medicine and science that benefit all of humanity, while continuing to teach us about how humans will not just survive, but thrive, in deep space.

That’s why I hope to see continued government and commercial investment in low-Earth orbit. Until we do establish a regular cadence in deep space, the International Space Station will remain vital to our ventures beyond Earth.

Ultimately, the timeless human drive to explore new and undiscovered landscapes cannot be stifled. After far too long, without clear objectives defined, I am thrilled that humankind does finally have a path to Mars that is realistic and achievable.

Exploration on that scale is a dramatic step for the human race, and must be planned for and executed accordingly.  As humanity plans to take its first cautious steps toward ever-more-distant destinations, we at Boeing are honored to be working with NASA on critical hardware to enable those bold, historic missions.

When the Space Launch System lifts off for the first time, its thunderous engines and earth-shaking power will announce the arrival of a next-generation heavy lift capability for NASA, with the reliability and performance befitting a journey undertaken on behalf of our entire civilization.

The Space Launch System will enable missions further into space than ever before. With SLS and Orion, we will see a return to the vicinity of the Moon, and maybe its surface. The Moon offers opportunities like government-commercial partnerships and international collaborations. And through programs like Next Step we’ll establish a deep space gateway – a point of departure for missions that will bring human beings near, and eventually onto the surface of Mars.

Together we have the drive, direction, leadership, and technology required to take part in the first human exploration of Mars in our lifetimes. And so I believe the frontiers of exploration are very much alive, and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it.

One of the really amazing things about space is that you don’t need to be directly involved to benefit from the advances we make in this field. And you certainly don’t need to be an astronaut to feel the excitement and majesty of a launch.

Spaceflight is inspiring! When a future astronaut does eventually set foot on the Red Planet, it will be a special moment for every man, woman and child on this planet.

That’s why so many of today’s students – tomorrow’s leaders – are studying STEM fields to prepare themselves to follow up on what we are doing today. Thanks to the “Genes in Space” competition, dedicated young people have an opportunity to take a direct role in real, meaningful research onboard the International Space Station, at once advancing our knowledge, while offering them a life-changing educational experience in turn. Conversations, debates and ideas about our future in space fill the imaginations of young engineers, pilots and scientists. The possibilities that space represents, push us in our own ways to learn something new, to think a little different, and to better appreciate the world we live in now.

As the poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Shortly after the final moonwalk of Apollo 17, then-President Richard Nixon sent a message to the crew noting that a monumental chapter in space exploration was drawing to a close. But the tone was optimistic, not mournful.

 “America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow”.  This was the message that traveled from the Oval office to that capsule a quarter-million miles from Earth on that day 45 years ago.

I believe by working together as a community of space leaders to Connect, Protect, Explore and Inspire the world we are honoring that vision.  I believe our destiny in space is assured. And I am thrilled to be working alongside all of you on this amazing journey, as we discover the future possibilities in space together.

Thank you.