Yesterday, the President signed Space Policy Directive-2. This document briefly introduces new space policy initiatives spanning multiple agencies related to the commercial space sector.
These new directives grew from conversations within the space policy community over the past couple of years. In February, the National Space Council submitted recommendations through the Vice President's office in a document called Moon, Mars, and Worlds Beyond. The policies in Directive-2 echo these recommendations. Some of these policies were introduced in the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act in the House of Representatives last year which was recently passed by the House in April. Others were introduced in the American Space Renaissance Act in 2016 by then Representative Jim Bridenstine, now NASA Administrator.
Launch and Reentry
Directive-2 requires the Secretary of Transportation to develop a new regulatory system which combines space vehicle launch licenses and reentry licenses into one single license. Reentry licenses are required for return capsules carrying cargo and/or crew back to Earth. Additionally, as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other companies progress in developing reusable rocketry, used rocket stages need reentry licenses for reentering Earth's atmosphere and landing or splashing down on land or water. Up to this point, reentry objects have needed a separate license in addition to the vehicle's launch license. Directive-2 combines these licenses to streamline commercial launch and reentry permissions.
This policy is the National Space Council's Moon, Mars, and Worlds Beyond document Recommendation 1: “The Secretary of Transportation should work to transform the launch and re-entry licensing regime. The Department of Transportation would require a single license for all types of launch and re-entry vehicle operations and transform the launch and re-entry regulatory process from one of prescriptive requirements to a performance based licensing regime.”
Directive-2 “requires the Commerce Secretary to review commercial remote sensing regulations for consistency with the Directive’s policy and address regulations that do not conform. The current regulatory system is woefully out of date and needs significant reform to ensure the United States remains the chosen jurisdiction for these high tech companies.” This policy seeks to address a major complaint in industry about the commercial remote sensing (especially Earth observation) restrictions that no longer make sense.
The American Space Renaissance Act's Section 307 “Commercial Remote Sensing Licensing Reform” states, in part, “In order to protect United States leadership and commercial viability in remote sensing technologies, the Federal Government should not limit commercial entities from providing remote sensing capabilities or data products that are already offered or available in the international marketplace.”
Additionally, recent enforcement of NOAA remote sensing license requirements for video recording of rocket launches and satellite deployments caused confusion in the industry. Needing a license to record low resolution Earth observation in the background of a rocket launch or satellite deployment may be one of the out-of-date regulations referenced in Directive-2.
Directive-2 directs the Office of Commerce to review remote sensing regulations, including those currently managed by NOAA. Although not yet law, the House's American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act moves commercial remote sensing regulations from NOAA to the Office of Space Commerce in the Department of Commerce.
Department of Commerce
Although the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation under George Nield's leadership pushed to expand regulatory powers under the FAA, this was rejected by the National Space Council. The FCC and NOAA also regulate areas of space activity. More recently, the push has been to consolidate regulatory authority under the Department of Commerce.
Directive-2 states, “The Commerce Secretary is directed to transmit a plan to create a 'one-stop shop' within the Department of Commerce for administering and regulating commercial space flight activities.”
We see this policy introduced in the American Space Renaissance Act: “The Secretary of Commerce shall provide to Congress a report on feasibility and benefits of reorganizing portions of the Department to better coordinate and support its space-related economic and regulatory activities.”
The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act grants the Department of Commerce's Office of Space Commerce the authority to issue certifications for space objects that fall outside of other agencies' jurisdictions, such as Moon Express's robotic lunar landing mission.
Whether Directive-2 goes beyond this recommendation and is an effort to move FAA, FCC, and NOAA space regulatory authority under the Department of Commerce is to be seen. In the National Space Council's Moon, Mars, and Worlds Beyond document, Recommendation 2 states, “The Secretary of Commerce should consolidate its space commerce responsibilities, other than launch and reentry, in the Office of the Secretary of Commerce.”
Directive-2 requires agencies “to present to the President a report on improving global competitiveness of United States space radio frequency spectrum policies, regulation, and activities at the International Telecommunication Union and other multilateral forums.” Radio frequency spectrum battles within the space industry and encompassing the terrestrial telecommunications industry have been ongoing with little resolution.
The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act Chapter 802 “Permitting of Space-based Remote Sensing Systems” states in part, the desire to “ identify any challenges the United States private sector is experiencing... with access to adequate, predictable, and reliable radio frequency spectrum.”
The American Space Renaissance Act was more specific, stating the FCC and other agencies should take specific action outlined in the bill “in order to streamline the process for obtaining any necessary authorization to use electromagnetic spectrum for commercial space launch activities and thereby ensure certainty of access to the spectrum required for a robust and active commercial space launch services sector.”
The National Space Council's Moon, Mars, and Worlds Beyond document's Recommendation 3 states, “The National Telecommunication and Information Administration should coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission to ensure the protection and stewardship of radio frequency spectrum necessary for commercial space activities.”
Directive-2 “requires the National Space Council to review export licensing regulations affecting commercial space flight activity.” Despite a major revision to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) in 2014 and minor revisions in the years since, export control restrictions inhibits international business and partnerships beyond what many in the industry are comfortable with.
The National Space Council's Moon, Mars, and Worlds Beyond document's Recommendation 4 states, “The Executive Secretary of the National Space Council, in coordination with members of the National Space Council, should initiate a policy review of the current export licensing regulations affecting commercial space activity.”
The National Space Council
Every recommendation in the National Space Council's Moon, Mars, and Worlds Beyond document was addressed in Space Policy Directive-2. The only topic mentioned in Moon, Mars, and Worlds Beyond not addressed in Directive-2 briefly referred to rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking maneuvers.
During the National Space Council's first meeting in October last year, the Council recommended US space policy be amended to include a return to humans to the Moon. This led to the President signing Space Policy Directive-1 in December which called for “the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”
From this pattern, we can infer all future National Space Council recommendations will be similarly addressed in future administration space policy directives.