Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross puts his foot down

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In a speech at a space conference this week, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross outlined the Trump administration’s plans to streamline the commercial space regulatory bureaucracy, noting that the absurd interference with normal operations by bureaucrats must stop.

He made specific reference to NOAA’s demand that it have the right to license all photography in space.

“This is silly and it will stop,” Ross told an audience of space industry executives, policymakers and military officers at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, backing the view of SpaceX and other rocket companies that the cameras on its rockets aren’t the equivalent of satellites dedicated to Earth views.

He then noted that the regulatory framework is going to be consolidated into an “Office of Space Commerce” under his direct supervision, though the FCC (licensing radio spectrum) and the FAA (licensing rocket launches) will retain their responsibilities.

Will this streamline anything or save the taxpayer any money? Doesn’t look that way to me, as it seems to be adding a new layer of bureaucrats to the process without eliminating any existing departments. And then there is this additional quote from the article:

The question for space executives, who have clamored for more responsive government when it comes to licenses for launches and satellite operation, is whether increased funding will accompany the shifting responsibilities.

Speeding up bureaucracy means hiring more people, and projects like space traffic management demand investment in the technology to detect and track objects in orbit. While the Trump administration had adopted lofty rhetoric around its support for space business, it’s not yet clear that the White House has the needed clout to win congressional support—and federal dollars—for its proposals.

While it is a good thing that the Trump administration has apparently told the NOAA bureaucrats to take a flying leap, it appears they have also decided that building a new layer of bureaucracy to regulate space is a good thing. This is most unfortunate.



  • Dollars to doughnuts there will be new licensing fees to pay for the bureaucracy. It’s curious how ‘speeding up bureaucracy’ always seems to mean more resources expended rather than regulations reduced.

  • Edward

    What could be hopeful, however, is whether this new bureaucracy intends to be a “one shop stop” that interacts with all the other bureaucracies on behalf of the license applicant. If the Commerce Department can put its foot down now, then perhaps this new office can stomp on any overreaches, such as the one that NOAA tried to pull on us the other week.

    There does seem to be some attempt at consolidation of all the bureaucracy. From the article:

    The Trump administration also intends to give the office responsibility for space traffic management and space situational awareness, moving those jobs from military to civilian hands. … Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the National Space Council intended to coordinate extra-terrestrial policy across government

    I am not willing to bet a quarter that this kind of consolidation is what is happening. I am willing to bet a quarter that the Trump administration sees some competition from Luxembourg, which has enacted policies in recent years that make it an attractive country from which to operate space assets. From the article:

    Ross said the goal is for the US to be the “flag of choice” for businesses working in space. … [S]pace executives … have clamored for more responsive government when it comes to licenses for launches and satellite operation

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