Cardillo Champions Regulatory Reform for Commercial Remote Sensing Satellites

Cardillo Champions Regulatory Reform for Commercial Remote Sensing Satellites

Robert Cardillo, Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), sounded a clarion call for reforming the way the government regulates commercial remote sensing satellites today.  The intelligence community (IC), of which NGA is part, and DOD are often cited as the culprits in lengthy and unexplained delays for those trying to obtain licenses as required by law.  Cardillo pointed out that with the growing number of entities — including elementary and middle schools — needing licenses, the process must change.

Cardillo was the keynote speaker today at the annual Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Small satellites have come a long way since the conference was first held 31 years ago. Technological advances allow a lot of capability to be packed into smaller and smaller spacecraft.

NASA Ames Research Center’s PhoneSat 2.5 Cubesat. Image credit: NASA Ames.

Cubesats are a prime example.  A one unit (u) cubesat is 10 x 10 x 10 centimeters and several can be attached together to form larger cubesats, although the end result remains a very small satellite.   They have become very popular not only for companies like Planet, which has “flocks” of cubesats in low Earth orbit providing earth imagery, but as educational tools from elementary school through college.

Robert Cardillo, Director, NGA. Photo credit: NGA website.

What do elementary and secondary school students want to do with a cubesat?   Installing a sensor that can look down at Earth is a common undertaking.   Current law, however, requires anyone outside the government who wants to launch a satellite that can look at the planet to obtain a license from NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce (DOC).

Congress is currently considering changes to that law, the 1992 Land Remote Sensing Act, to make it easier for companies to get their licenses and harder for DOD and the IC to hold up the process without providing any information on why or what the applicant could do to win approval.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee recently approved the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act which, among other things, would give DOC vastly expanded authority over these licenses.  Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), chairman of the Space Subcommittee and one of the three main sponsors of the bill, frequently cites delays in approving commercial remote sensing satellite licenses as one of the catalysts for the legislation.

Speaking to a July 14, 2017 space policy seminar co-sponsored by the Aerospace Corporation and George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, Babin noted that the 1992 law requires license applications to be adjudicated in 120 days.  “Unfortunately, applications have been held up by the government for over three years without explanation.  This has forced companies and even entire industries … to go overseas” with detrimental effects on the United States.  He is determined to fix that process.

The message seems to be getting through.

Cardillo told the SmallSat conference today that the Departments of Defense, State, Commerce, and Interior and the IC have updated their interagency agreement on licensing private satellite remote sensing systems to “clarify and expedite the licensing process.”   The point is to “get remote sensing concepts reviewed efficiently and quickly with an initial presumption of ‘yes,’ or a clear explanation of [U.S. government] concerns and how they can be mitigated.”

He vowed to work closely with the reestablished White House National Space Council to streamline the process so the government can spend its resources “on applications for cutting edge technology rather than elementary school cubesats.  And industry can count on a greatly simplified regulatory process when you are asking to license a very well understood capability.  It’s time to bring common sense to government regulation of the small sat gold rush.”

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.