NOAA claims it is streamlining its remote sensing licensing operations

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We’re here to help you! The NOAA office that recently demanded that it has the legal power to regulate all camera images from space announced this week that it has vastly streamlined its licensing process.

Really? Let’s take a look at their own numbers:

Samira Patel, an analyst with the Aerospace Corporation supporting CRSRA [Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs at NOAA], said that in 2015 the average review time for a license application was 210 days, with only 1 of 15 applications completed within the 120-day time limit established in federal law. In 2016, that decreased to an average of 140 days, with 5 of 12 applications reviewed within 120 days.

Last year, Patel said the office completed reviews of license applications on an average of 91 days. Only 2 of 16 applications took more than 120 days, she said, “and that was only by a few days.” [emphasis mine]

My heart be still. It now takes them only three months on average to get a permit approved. Imagine how fast they’ll do it when they have to approve every tourist image taken of Earth from the many proposed private space stations.

The article does note that the Trump administration is reviewing the entire permitting process for commercial space, and that this responsibility, as well as the FAA’s licensing responsibility, could soon be merged and moved to the Department of Commerce. I hope that, in the process of this rearrangement, they throw out this new power-grab. The government has no business licensing any image-taking by any private entity.



  • Joe From Houston

    Something tells me that HD cameras are also going up on the recent FCC-launch-approved Starlink broadband satellites to get up to the second images of happenings on the land, sea, and air below. To my knowledge, I don’t think they have thought that far in the future as to whom else can they provide an in-space service to. Getting the permits from the FCC is a major milestone that they are likely celebrating privately. It’s like charging two sets of customers for two things all at once; something that could not be done well on satellites in Geo-synchronous orbit.

    If only they could also add high powered lasers to them, they could open a third and affordable market for the military to do whatever they already likely do in space and at an aggressively accelerated rate.

  • Edward

    Robert, you missed a huge problem that this seemingly innocent power grab presents.

    The problem may look like it is the time delay, but the trend shows that there is not an increasing number of suppliers of remote sensing — and this is with commercial weather satellites starting to come online and with comsats using their signals to help provide weather data. Streamlining the process is not helping solve the problem.

    Small satellites are growing in popularity, but remote sensing is not growing in popularity despite the “reduced” red tape. Clearly something is wrong with the system, and the recent power grab by NOAA can only cause further harm.

    Here is the big problem: if pictures that contain no location and pointing data are considered remote sensing (what kind of remote sensing data does not tell you what you are looking at?), what other space instruments that are currently going up are likewise going to become surprise targets of the power grubbing, tyrannical bureaucrats? In order to make money, and much science, some form of information must come from a distant location, often it comes from the Earth. If pictures with absolutely no remote sensing data are to be regulated, then other non-data can be regulated?

    The article said noted an increase in the number of inquiries as to whether a satellite needed NOAA clearance, but now there will have to be far more inquiries. Indeed, what satellite should not need an inquiry? Every geostationary communication satellite has an Earth sensor, so how are those operators to know whether that now constitutes remote sensing? NOAA will have to clear up those kinds of issues.

    Can anyone’s cubesat even be launched without being cleared through the bureaucracy? Before the broadcast of Starman, no one would have ever dreamed that such pictures could ever be considered by anyone as being any form of remote sensing, especially considered so by the remote sensing experts at NOAA (maybe NOAA is not as expert as we had believed — they also mess with historical temperature data without informing anyone that they have done so, much less why). At the rate the US is mucking it all up, no one will want to be associated with a US space company.

    Talking about mucking it all up, did the bureaucracy learn nothing from the ITAR fiasco? That drove overseas a lot of satellite manufacture and launch, removing the US controls over technology transfer to China; this control being the stated intent of ITAR. ITAR caused us to treat allies as dreaded enemies (Orbital Sciences never got approval to build a radar satellite for Canada, which went to another country for that satellite). ITAR was put in place, and a few years later China had the technology to successfully and reliably put men into space, and they followed with successful space stations. Because they could not longer rely upon the US for satellites, components, and support, other (friendly) countries improved their satellite technologies far faster than they would have otherwise, and they also developed technologies that they would still be dependent upon the US for. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!

    The overreach of government is affecting commercial space’s ability to move us forward and the leadership of the US space industry.

  • pzatchok

    Just like they already do private down looking satellites they just have to set a pixel limit and lens local length limit. No photo/video stabilization after a set limit.

    Anything more than that and it qualifies as a ‘spy’ satellite subject to those security rules.

    I think the current limit is one pixel per meter or half meter.

    My idiot guess would be something similar to a 48 megapixel DSLR camera with a 1000 mm lens and video stabilization.
    Present off the shelf common tech.

  • Zed_Weasel

    AIUI hand held cameras are exempted from the NOAA regulations.

  • Edward

    Remote sensing is not just visual photographs. NOAA is testing the purchase of commercial satellite data, such as using radio occultation, in order to create profiles of temperature, water vapor, and electron density (ionospheric information). (5 minutes, Atmospheric Remote Sensing)

    If innocent low resolution location-indeterminate imagery that was never intended as remote sensing – and can never be used as remote sensing data – can be regulated, then what about seemingly innocent radio signals, such as the everyday communication satellites or just the transmission of engineering data from any satellite? What does NOAA not consider to be remote sensing?

    Are regulations now being created just to hamper certain companies or people?

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