WASHINGTON – After almost a year interagency wrangling, the White House National Space Council today released a legislative proposal that would divide regulatory authority for new types of commercial space activities – such as refueling in orbit And delivery of goods by rocket that piqued the interest of the Pentagon – between the Commerce and Transportation departments, according to White House officials.
“American industry leads the world in bringing the benefits of space to Earth. This legislation ensures that our government will build a regulatory environment that supports business expansion for the benefit of all Americans,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce Don Graves said in a press release.
The decision on what is often called “mission authorization and oversight” is eagerly awaited by U.S. companies seeking licenses for activities that fall between the cracks of the U.S. commercial space regulatory regime , which led to endless wait times, branch hopping and a lot of red. adhesive tape. Given that many of the companies conducting such activities in “new spaces” are start-ups, regulatory uncertainty has consistently eaten away at their ability to secure investments.
Currently, the Department of Commerce (DoC), through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, regulates commercial remote sensing systems; the Department of Transportation (DoT), through the Federal Aviation Administration, regulates commercial launches and reentries; and the semi-independent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, including by satellites.
The bill covers a plethora of space activities that do not fit into or overlap with these licensing regimes, including commercial space stations pushed by NASA, assembly and manufacturing in spacespace debris removaland “gas stations” in orbit, according to a White House official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
Although the bill addresses “commercial” activities, U.S. Space Command has in recent months prioritized the requirements of what it calls “dynamic space operations” — the ability of spacecraft to move (relatively) quickly and cost-effectively into orbit — and the development of technologies to support this capability. This includes in-orbit refueling and repairs to extend satellite life, advanced propulsion systems and onboard artificial intelligence systems to enable more precise maneuvering as well as high-speed data processing.
The National Space Council’s decision to publish the bill was partly triggered by the publication of another bill by Rep. Frank Lucas, R.-Okla., who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and Rep. Brian Babin, R.-Texas, who chairs that committee’s subcommittee on space and aeronautics, several US government sources said. Break the defense.
This bill would make Commerce the sole regulatory authority for all private sector space activities. It would also have the effect of repealing current licensing processes in favor of a simplified certification process with essentially a presumption of approval. The bill is increased today.
According to the White House official, the National Space Council bill includes the following provisions:
- DoT’s current authority over the safety of humans during launch and reentry would be extended “to the safety of humans in orbit, on a commercial space station, on/around the Moon, or on another celestial body.”
- DoT’s current licensing authority for launch and re-entry into space would be extended to “transportation in space for the delivery of cargo from one point in space to another or to/from the lunar surface. An example includes the delivery of fuel from a space fuel depot to a space station.
- DoC licenses for remote sensing satellites would be expanded “to include all new space activities that are not human-assessed or assigned to DoT.” Examples include assembly and manufacturing missions in space, as well as satellites tasked with removing space debris.
- Both agencies would “establish regulatory review processes that leverage the expertise and perspectives of other departments and agencies (e.g., DoT leveraging NASA’s human spaceflight expertise to establish safety regulations for commercial space stations and space tourism).
- Both agencies will “consider space security and sustainability as part of their permitting process to include plans to avoid the creation of space waste.”
Finally, the White House official said, the bill would codify the DoC’s authority to provide “space traffic coordination and Warnings to Avoid Collisions in Space” for non-military operators in the United States and abroad – supporting this responsibility from the Department of Defense. The DoC and the Pentagon have been working for several years on transfer processes for this mission, with the Space Force and SPACECOM seeking how transfer the collected data by military space surveillance sensors, most of them classified, to the DoC without compromising security.
National Space Council staff are briefing staff on Capitol Hill this morning, followed by briefings for stakeholders, according to a lobbyist who is closely following the issue. But given all the other pressing issues facing a sharply divided Congress as the end of the year approaches, the bill’s fate is uncertain.