White House issues new policy statement to reduce space regulation


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Don’t get too excited: President Trump yesterday signed a new policy statement that basically follows the recommendations of his National Space Council aimed at reducing regulation of space commerce.

One section of the policy addresses launch licensing, requiring the Secretary of Transportation, who oversees the Federal Aviation Administration, to “release a new regulatory system for managing launch and re-entry activity, targeting an industry that is undergoing incredible transformation with regulations that have failed to keep up,” according to a White House fact sheet.

A second section deals with commercial remote sensing regulatory reform. “The current regulatory system is woefully out of date and needs significant reform to ensure the United States remains the chosen jurisdiction for these high tech companies,” the fact sheet states.

A related section calls on the Secretary of Commerce to provide a plan to create a “one-stop shop” within his department “for administering and regulating commercial space flight activities.” The Commerce Department had previously announced plans to combine the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs office with the Office of Space Commerce, giving the latter office that regulatory role for issues other than launch and communications.

The policy directs several agencies, including Commerce, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Federal Communications Commission, to develop a plan for “improving global competitiveness” of policies, regulation and other activities dealing with the use of radiofrequency spectrum for space activities.

A final section of the policy directs the National Space Council to review export control regulations regarding commercial spaceflight activities and provide recommendations within 180 days.

The policy closely follows the recommendations from the February meeting of the National Space Council. However, White House officials, speaking on background, said they don’t expect immediate changes as a result of the policy since many of the changes, like changes to regulations, will take months to implement through standard rulemaking processes. Some changes, the officials acknowledge, will require legislation to enact, such as authority to license “non-traditional” commercial space activities. [emphasi mine]

The highlighted text illustrates this is really just public relations and lobbying to get new legislation through Congress. Without that, little will change.

This directive however does carry one certain action we should all celebrate. The changes at Commerce eliminate the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs Office, where bureaucrats earlier this year claimed they had the power to license all photography of any kind from space, a power that allowed them to block SpaceX from using cameras on their rocket when those cameras showed the Earth in the background.

At the time I said that “If Trump is serious about cutting back regulation, he should step it now to shut this down.” Apparently, he has done so.

As for the other proposed regulatory changes, there are bills weaving their way through the labyrinth of Congress to address these changes. The House bill repeats most of the recommended changes of this policy directive. We have not yet seen a Senate version.

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  • Edward

    We recently had a brief discussion, here on BtB, about citizen (civilian) scientists (See this comment and those that follow: http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/new-tests-prove-em-drive-doesnt-work/#comment-1053096 ). Easy access to data helps with civilian-performed science, but so do the cheaper/faster/smaller cubesat and smallsat technologies.

    For instance, Rocket Lab will soon launch a cubesat from southern California schools that will bring students into the exploration of space at low Earth orbit (LEO).
    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/rocket-lab-announces-new-launch-date/
    From the linked article:

    Students from six high schools in Irvine, California, including Beckman, Irvine, Northwood, Portola, University, and Woodbridge, developed IRVINE 01 – which is funded by private sector donations to the Irvine Public Schools Foundation.

    James Bridenstine will be at NASA’s controls as this democratization of space access comes to fruition. Reducing the burden of following onerous regulations will create even easier access to space for civilian scientists.

    Reduced cost of access to space for civilians will also come from NASA’s commercial manned space program, and reduced cost of access for experiments and space tourists will come from commercial space stations and space habitats. Hopefully, Bridenstine will help lead NASA and Congress into encouraging and assisting in these increased commercial endeavors.

    Commercial exploration of the Moon and commercial weather satellites are being developed. Commercial Earth observation and communication industries are well developed industries. Commercial launch industry is being developed for all sizes and weights of spacecraft. One commercial company is actively working toward sending unmanned probes to Mars with manned spacecraft to follow. Other companies are seriously considering their own manned missions to the Moon. Others are working toward mining operations and refueling facilities, especially using spaced-based (mined) sources of fuel. Commercial radar satellites, such as ICEYE are coming soon, using synthetic aperture radar (SAR).

    Commercial companies are innovating or improving technologies, from reusable rockets, reusable space capsules, and a better finessed reusable lifting body spacecraft to SAR (recently thought impossible to perform on small satellites), to quick turnaround times for space launch (both from launch pads and for reusable rockets), to low cost rocket development, and to low cost heavy lift rockets.

    Some people have labelled as “fanboys” those who are impressed with SpaceX’s rapid progress — progress that puts to shame NASA and other government-run space programs. I see it differently: we are fans of all the new commercial space companies and of commercializing space, because governments worldwide have botched the job, taking decades to make little progress. SpaceX just happens to be the first and, so far, most advanced of these commercial space companies. SpaceX is showing the way (e.g. creating Falcon Heavy in about the same amount of time that NASA created the Saturn V), and other companies are following close in their wake. There are a lot of upstart startup companies to be fanboys of; the essay linked in the following post lists only a few.
    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/a-close-look-at-spacexs-new-domination-in-the-commercial-launch-industry/

    Other companies are working on their own versions, but Bigelow Aerospace is flying three space habitat modules, two as free fliers and one attached to the manned ISS. With access to space and with the construction of space habitats becoming easier and cheaper, some people are proposing a space settlement in LEO. With inexpensive habitat modules and transportation to orbit, this is finally feasible.

    SpaceX has suggested that BFR may be able to lift 150 tonnes to LEO for $5 million, which comes to around $15 per pound. This is getting in the same order of magnitude as sending a package overnight express. What an interesting place the world — or rather the solar system — will be. Especially if regulations continue to be reduced in a way that helps make getting to space even easier.

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