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A step towards a “one-stop shop” for commercial space regulations

President Trump holds a signed copy of Space Policy Directive 2 in the Oval Office May 24, along with Vice President Pence and National Space Council staff. (credit: official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

This time, the administration’s latest milestone in space policy got a little less media attention.

In the past, the White House heralded such milestones, such as the signing of the executive order last June re-establishing the National Space Council after a quarter-century hiatus or the signing last December of Space Policy Directive 1 that formally instructed NASA to return humans to the Moon, with signing ceremonies. Members of Congress and industry officials would stand by while the president signed the order and made some comments, often along with Vice President Mike Pence.

The signing last Thursday of Space Policy Directive (SPD) 2, though, was a quieter affair, without the same pomp and circumstance. President Trump signed the policy in the Oval Office, documented by a single official photo of the president holding the signed document along with Pence and National Space Council staff. The signing itself, once planned for Thursday morning, was moved to the afternoon.

“This directive will encourage American leadership in space commerce by creating more certainty for investors and private industry, while focusing on protecting our national security and public safety,” Pence said in a brief statement after the signing. He added that the National Space Council, which he chairs, will meet again June 18 at the White House.

The policy was the long-awaited enactment of recommendations made by the National Space Council at its most recent public meeting in February. Those recommendations focused on reforms to commercial space regulatory issues, ranging from launch licensing to consolidation of many regulatory functions into a “one-stop shop” within the Commerce Department (see “Making space regulations great again”, The Space Review, February 26, 2018).

There were few changes between the recommendations approved by the council in February and the contents of SPD-2 signed last week. The policy requires the FAA to complete a review of launch regulations and propose changes, such as allowing for a single license regardless of location, by February 1 of next year, versus the March 1 date in the recommendation. The policy also includes more details on commercial remote sensing regulatory reform, which the council’s recommendations had folded into the reorganization of space responsibilities within Commerce.

There were, though, few major changes to the recommendations, and industry groups who had previously expressed their support for them backed the contents of SPD-2. “Today’s signing will help make it easier for American entrepreneurs to get permission to invent new breakthroughs in space,” said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, in a statement. “You might say the space frontier became a little more ‘open’ to the American people today.”

“While many details have yet to be worked out, we are a committed and constructive partner in revising and reducing cumbersome space regulations,” said Frank Slazer, vice president for space and workforce at the Aerospace Industries Association. He specifically mentioned two other elements of SPD-2, a review of radiofrequency spectrum issues affecting space and a review of export control regulations.

One big element of the policy is giving the Commerce Department the green light to proceed with creation of a consolidated office to deal with most commercial space regulatory issues. That will combine the Office of Space Commerce with the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) office, moving them out of NOAA and directly under the Secretary of Commerce.

In a separate statement, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that the combined office will be known as the “SPACE Administration,” with SPACE the somewhat contrived acronym of Space Policy Advancing Commercial Enterprise. Ultimately, the SPACE Administration will oversee all commercial space regulatory activities other than launch and reentries, which remain at FAA, and communications, under the FCC’s oversight.

In the statement, Ross said that in addition to combining the two existing offices, the SPACE Administration would also have liaisons assigned to it from the other Commerce Department organizations that deal with space in one way or another, including the Bureau of Industry and Security, International Trade Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, NOAA, and National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Ross played up the coordination in an op-ed originally published in the New York Times. “A unified departmental office for business needs will enable better coordination of space-related activities,” he argued. “When companies seek guidance on launching satellites, the Space Administration will be able to address an array of space activities, including remote sensing, economic development, data-purchase policies, GPS, spectrum policy, trade promotion, standards and technology and space-traffic management.”

While billed as a “one-stop shop” for commercial space, the office will still have to deal with the FAA and FCC, and likely other organizations that will weigh in during interagency reviews for launch and remote sensing license, making it less of a one-stop shop than a main door to the overall regulatory bureaucracy.

George Nield, who retired two months ago from the position of FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said the creation of that office is “promising,” but not sufficient to address broader concerns about how space activities should be overseen and managed by the federal government.

“I get the impression that that plan is likely only going to talk about space-related activities within the Department of Commerce,” he said during a panel discussion Sunday at the International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles. “While that’s a positive step, if that’s all it does, it does not fix the problem we’ve been talking about here.”

The SPACE Administration will also require some kind of legislation to formally authorize its activities, as well as to enact some of the other regulatory reform it seeks in commercial remote sensing and related areas.

“In some cases, like the formation of the one-stop shopping office within the Commerce Department, the secretary can, of course, reorganize his own office as he is doing on his own authority,” said a White House official, speaking on background, last week. “But, in terms of a more permanent position, we will need the Congress, and we are working with the Congress, both the House and Senate, on legislation that would be a more permanent recognition of their reorganization.”

There is legislation to accomplish some of those goals already in Congress. Last month the House approved the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act, which combines the CRSRA office with the Office of Space Commerce and makes reforms to remote sensing and other commercial space regulations. The Senate is drafting a bill, yet to be released, that is expected to touch on some of those issues.

So what’s next for the administration in space policy? In April, Vice President Pence, speaking at the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado, said a draft space traffic management policy had been developed, which would give civilian space situation awareness responsibilities to the Commerce Department, further consolidating its role in commercial space (see “Space commerce traffic management”, The Space Review, April 30, 2018).

That might become SPD-3, that White House official said. “I would hope that our next step after this one will be a policy directive on space traffic management,” the official said, adding nothing had been finalized yet about it. That’s one announcement that, when it comes, presumably won’t fly under the radar.


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