The National Space Council of the Trump administration met publicly for the second time this week to discuss the next changes in the US space policy agenda. UU., And the big issue of the day was the regulatory reform.
The council, a recently formed advisory group led by Vice President Mike Pence, discussed ways in which regulations are "stifling" the commercial space industry. "While American industry and technology have advanced into the future, our government agencies have too often been trapped in the past," Pence said at the meeting at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Now, the Council says it will work on a series of changes that will make regulations less burdensome for commercial companies, such as the rationalization of launch licenses and the creation of a new Under Secretary of Space Commerce.
"Our government agencies have too often been trapped in the past."
It is a family refrain of an administration that has made it very clear that it wants to diminish government supervision. In August, Trump signed an executive order ordering all agencies to revoke two existing regulations for each new one filed. Meanwhile, the administration is already reducing a series of environmental statutes, such as the Clean Energy Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Now it's the turn of the space industry, and the Space Council has presented four different types of regulatory issues that it wants to change over the next year. This is what the group is proposing:
Reform of the launch license
The commercial space industry is asking for a more simplified way to obtain a launch license. At this time, any aerospace company that wants to launch a rocket or land a spacecraft on Earth must obtain a license from the Federal Aviation Administration. These licenses are intended to ensure that such vehicles do not harm unsuspecting bystanders or cause any damage to public property when they are launched or landed.
The process to obtain a license is a bit disconnected. For example, the FAA has a unique set of licensing guidelines for each type of launch site. Companies that want to launch from a site supervised by the federal government have a different set of specific rules that they must follow than companies that launch from a private spaceport. "The current licensing regime is riddled with heavy governmental barriers," said Pence. "To make matters worse, launch licenses can not be transferred often from one site to another." In addition, the different classifications of vehicles also have their own license rules: a rocket considered expendable has a checklist separate from one that is considered reusable.
The new Blue Origin Shepard takes off. Image: Blue Origin
The companies argue that this makes obtaining a license consumes a lot of time, and instead, they want a much more simplified process that can be applied to everyone, regardless of the type of vehicle or the launch pad. "Obviously the rockets that are very small and launched from a spaceport [commercial] are different from the big heavy-duty launch vehicles like the Falcon Heavy," Jim Muncy, founder of PoliSpace, a consulting agency of the Verge, told The Verge. space policy. "Then, taking into account the differences in launch vehicles and design, the industry wants to write more general rules that apply to things equally."
The Department of Commerce intervenes
Space companies have become much more ambitious in the last decade. After all, SpaceX launched a sports car in orbit around the Sun, and the company has had no problems with its goal of sending humans to the Moon and Mars. Meanwhile, other companies want to do more than launch satellites. Some plan to launch robots that can service satellites in orbit, operate in space habitats or mined asteroids and the Moon in search of resources. The problem is that there is no current regulatory framework that allows the government to supervise these specialized activities in space.
Now, the Department of Commerce says it wants the job of creating that framework. At the meeting, Wilbur Ross, the US Secretary of Commerce, proposed creating a "one stop shop for space commerce" in the department. He also proposed the creation of a new Under Secretary of Space Commerce (which many have called "space czar"), which will oversee all these advanced operations in space and propose standards.
An artistic representation of the MX-1E landing module that Moon Express wishes to send to the lunar surface. Image: Moon Express
The Department of Commerce would not be responsible for all space-related regulations – the FAA would still supervise licenses for the launch and re-entry of spacecraft, for example – but this move could help fill a large gap that has been growing in the space industry. In 2016, Moon Express had to seek special government approval for its future mission to the lunar surface. A "space czar" could help consolidate spatial regulation in an important way and allow companies to do more than simply launch satellites to orbit.
"Basically, they say that if you can think of something new and innovative, they can give you the authorization to do it," said Brian Weeden, a space expert at Secure World Foundation, a nonprofit organization specializing in space security. Edge.
Sharing the spectrum
In addition to simplifying the launch license process, companies are also asking for an easier way to access the radio frequencies they need to communicate with their satellites. That is the key to controlling and downloading information from those probes.
At this time, companies have to apply for a license with the Federal Communications Commission, but the approval process has become complicated and prolonged, according to the industry. In fact, there is only a small and finite spectrum of radio frequencies that companies can use, and many companies want to access this spectrum.
there is only a small and finite spectrum of radio frequencies that companies can use
Commercial companies are also having difficulty coordinating with the US government, especially when it comes to operating Earth observation satellites. Both private companies and the government have to share a very narrow band of frequencies to operate these satellites, and have had problems coordinating with each other. "When you share, there is a coordination process," says The Verge Thomas Stroup, CEO of Shared Spectrum. "And that coordination process requires a lot of government approval."
As a result, the National Space Council is requesting better approval and coordination processes for the commercial industry. In addition, the Department of Commerce is tasked with finding better ways to manage how spectrum is used.
Another great area that the commercial industry wants to reform is how space flight hardware is exported. Predictably, companies want fewer restrictions on how they do business internationally. "That's obvious". It has been around for a long time, and they did it a couple of years ago, "Laura Forczyk, a space consultant and owner of the consulting and space research firm Astralytical, told The Verge.
The US government UU It maintains three large lists of items that must be licensed to export: the Controls of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which cover nuclear equipment; the List of Ammunitions of the United States, which covers defense-related technology; and the Trade Control List, which mainly covers commercial items that could have a military application. The goal of maintaining such lists is to prevent lethal weapons from falling into the wrong hands.
Image: NASA's conceptual imagery lab Goddard / Chris Meaney
Throughout the 2000s, satellites and other space-related technologies were included in the Ammunition List. That means that everything from software to a functioning spacecraft to a screw in that spacecraft is subject to strict regulations on how these items can be transported and shared with foreign countries. "Let's say that [a company] wants to operate from a foreign place, they have quite strict restrictions on who can access the facility, the guards they can use, etc.," says Weeden.
Part of the reform came in 2014, when the Obama administration transferred many satellite technologies to the Trade Control List, which is less restrictive. However, most of the articles related to human space flights are still in the Ammunition List. And with many companies looking to fly passengers in the next decade, the industry wants more reforms. "Can we work more closely with our international partners and can we do business internationally?" Says Forczyk. "They could make it clear and open it up a bit."
The Board established a series of deadlines for when it is necessary to make recommendations for changes. The deadline to deal with export control reforms is January 1, 2019, while ideas for the release license reform should be ready by March 1, 2019. It will be some time before we know what Changes are reserved for the industry, but it seems that the reform is on the way.