The commercial space industry in the US is upbeat over the Trump Administration’s move to streamline the sector and open it up to private players. The US House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology last week unanimously approved the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017. This comes closely on the heels of President Donald Trump signing into law the NASA Transition Act in March.
The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017, also known as the H.R. 2809, had support from both the parties – Republicans and Democrats – and now moves to the full US House of Representatives, following which it will be taken up by the Senate.
What is the Bill all about?
The Bill seeks to streamline the process of licensing for commercial remote sensing satellites and, if approved in its present form, will create a single authority for authorization and supervision of non-governmental space activities located at Office of Space Commerce of the Department of Commerce. At present, licensing issues are handled by an office within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The office would have a 60-day window to either issue a permit or deny the application. A permit will automatically be granted if a ruling doesn’t come at the end of the 60 days.
“The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act addresses issues that the committee has been tracking for years, including international obligations and commercial remote sensing. The Bill establishes a favorable legal and policy environment for free enterprise with maximum certainty and minimum burden for stakeholders,” said Committee Chairman Lamar Smith while introducing the Bill.
The innovative legislation will incentivize new space operators to set shops on American ground and allow the United States to maintain and adhere to international obligations as well as improving national security.
“This enterprising Bill provides an efficient, transparent, and streamlined structure for authorizing and supervising future space activities to create the path for future exploration of the final frontier,” Smith added.
The Bill also seeks to provide greater certainty to assure non-governmental space activities conform to the United States’ Outer Space Treaty obligations; preserve the ability to condition remote sensing operations to protect national security and enhance national security by ensuring insight into operations and capabilities by creating a competitive environment that discourages offshoring.
Support pours in from all quarters
Support has poured in from all quarters from the private industry. “We applaud the passing of the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017 (H.R. 2809), which makes critical updates to the regulations governing space-based commercial remote sensing,” said Dr. Walter Scott, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, DigitalGlobe, who is of the opinion that for too long, the American space industry has been hindered by outdated rules that lack transparency and allow for decisions to linger for months, and sometimes even years.
The reforms outlined in this Bill will have a positive impact on the American satellite industry, enabling US companies to be more competitive, creating jobs, and reaffirming the United States’ leadership of this essential sector.
“Quietly, for many years, a debate has taken place in government and commercial space policy circles about the proper legal structure for handling actions by US entities that take place far from Earth. The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017 brilliantly resolves some of the contradictions inherent in more traditional models and proposes a new and, in my opinion, very effective legal structure for future activities,” feels Jeff Greason, CEO, Agile Aero, a group of aviation and aerospace professionals with expertise in many aspects of advanced aerospace vehicle design, construction, and operations; rocket propulsion.
Many felt that the creation of a single authority for the registration of non-governmental space activities would immediately simplify the current processes. “[Additionally, the Bill also maintains] our international obligations to the Outer Space Treaty and recognizing any safety risks posed to our existing federal space systems,” said Dr. Devrie S. Intriligator, Director, Space Plasma Laboratory, Carmel Research Center, Inc.
The simplification of space-based remote sensing regulatory system is of particular importance to companies for developing new commercial remote sensing capabilities and seek a predictable regulatory regime for such activities. “The Act would also ensure US compliance with international obligations, promote evidence-based regulation, improve national security and eliminate cumbersome regulatory barriers facing new and innovative space technology companies,” felt Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., VADM USN (ret.) and CEO, GeoOptics.
“The Act has a number of important provisions, most important is that the proposed legislation will simplify and strengthen the outdated space-based remote sensing regulatory system,” said Geoff Crowley, President, and Chief Scientist, Atmospheric & Space Technology Research Associates (ASTRA), a system design and technology development company.
A joint statement from Jonathan Rosenblatt, General Counsel, Spire Global; Robbie Schingler, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Planet Labs; and Marcy Steinke, Senior Vice President, Government Relations and Public Policy, DigitalGlobe, stated: “It is so important that rules and regulations support and not hinder industry’s ability to grow and innovate. We believe this bill will do just that by presuming approval, redefining what needs to be regulated, streamlining the permitting process with actionable deadlines, increasing transparency and establishing an Assistant Secretary of Space Commerce.”
The Bill also drew strong support from the Satellite Industry Association. “SIA believes that introducing greater transparency and discipline into the U.S. Government’s regulatory review processes will ultimately encourage industry growth and bring a multitude of benefits to the US economy and security,” said Tom Stroup, president, Satellite Industry Association.
Other than simplifying remote sensing regulatory system, the Act is also expected to enhance US compliance with international obligations, improve national security, and eliminate cumbersome regulatory barriers facing new and innovative space technology companies, feels Guy P. Seeley, President, Atmospheric and Environmental Research, which helps government agencies better anticipate and manage climate and weather-related risks.
Michael Suffredini, President, and CEO, Axiom Space, praised the Act for its intention to maximize certainty while minimizing the regulatory burden placed on new and innovative space companies. “As a company who envisions a purely commercial business model, requesting no government funding and no guarantee of a government anchor tenant, we rely heavily on outside investment. Investors are, in turn, very focused on understanding risk, which includes knowing the impact of government-imposed regulation. For this reason, Axiom Space is fully supportive of the intent of the Act,” he added.
The core principles of the ASCFEA to ensure a regulatory ‘light touch’ approach that enables technological innovation and also helps promote safe operations in space under an authorization schema though the registration of space objects found favor with many industry players. “I applaud the committee working tirelessly on a bipartisan approach that upholds and enhances American leadership in space as well as lays the foundation for commercial space activities grow and flourish,” said Christopher M. Hearsey, Director of Legislative Affairs, Bigelow Aerospace.
“The member companies and institutions of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation are in strong agreement with all of the goals and most of the key elements of your legislation: significant reform of the Commerce Department’s obsolete, burdensome, and dysfunctional regime for licensing commercial remote sensing satellites is especially welcome,” said Eric Stallmer, President, Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
“As the first US company to request and receive US governmental ‘mission approval’ to send a private robotic spacecraft beyond traditional Earth orbit and to the Moon, we can attest to the need for certainty of process within a framework of minimal regulatory burden… This legislation creates a clear, objective, transparent, timely and appealable process for American companies like Moon Express to pursue innovative commercial space activities beyond traditional Earth orbit,” stated the statement from Dr. Robert Richards, founder, President & CEO, Moon Express Inc, which has ultimate plans to mine the Moon for natural resources of economic value.
Given that enabling both space development and space settlement were vital to the strategic future of the United States, it was felt that the industry needed a solution which ensured that not only were obligations under the Outer Space Treaty met, but new non-governmental space activities were also encouraged.
Andrew Newman, Chairman, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space; Josh Guild, Interim Executive Director, Space Frontier Foundation, expressed happiness that long-standing issues related to commercial remote sensing licenses were being addressed, and that a transparent, timely, and appealable regulatory process would be available for new non-traditional space activities upon passage of this Bill.
“This legislation makes clear that the Committee has given thought to a long view of how to best enable American industry and entrepreneurs to pursue space commerce activities aimed at exploring, developing, and utilizing space resources,” said Jim Ball, President, Spaceport Strategies.