Harris Meets with Space Advisory Group as Mission Authorization Deadline Nears

Harris Meets with Space Advisory Group as Mission Authorization Deadline Nears

Vice President Kamala Harris met with members of the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group yesterday. No big announcements emerged, but the space community is eagerly awaiting action by Harris on recommending what agency should be assigned “mission authorization” to regulate novel space activities, a topic of discussion at the UAG meeting earlier in the day.

The UAG provides advice to the National Space Council, which Harris chairs.  All Space Council members are government officials. The UAG brings a non-government perspective. Their meeting yesterday ended earlier than announced amid hints that members would participate in an important event afterwards. The White House did not reveal it was a meeting with Harris until after the event started. Last night, the White House released a summary and photos of the meeting.

Vice President Kamala Harris and members of the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group, February 23, 2023. White House photo.
Vice President Kamala Harris and National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group Chairman Gen. Lester Lyles (USAF, Ret.), February 23, 2023. White House photo.

In a tweet (@VP), Harris said: “I met with members of the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group as we maximize the incredible opportunities of space. Together, with the space community, we’re working to address the climate crisis, create industries of the future, and explore our universe.”

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy speaks to the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group (UAG), February 23, 2023. Screengrab.

During the public UAG meeting, Deputy NASA Administrator Pam Melroy said one of the barriers to those future commercial space activities is the lack of a designated agency to regulate novel space activities — those not already regulated by the FAA (commercial launch and reentry), NOAA (commercial remote sensing) or the FCC (spectrum assignments).

“We are very well aware that the lack of an agency with on-orbit authority to act as a regulator is a future barrier to commercial low Earth orbit space stations. We are not a regulator. That is not our role. Although we can provide technical assistance, we cannot be responsible for all activities on a commercial space station. And I hope the UAG will take an active interest in this issue.” — Pam Melroy, NASA

Under Article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, governments are responsible for authorizing and continually supervising the space activities of their non-government entities, like companies. So far the United States has established regulatory procedures only for the few mentioned above — launch, reentry, remote sensing, and spectrum.

Companies interested in building and operating commercial space stations, satellite servicing, Active Debris Removal, mineral extraction or an ever-growing list of other ideas must wend their way through the Washington maze to ascertain what requirements the government might impose on their pursuits, information critical to potential investors.

The long-running debate over what agency should become the “front door” or “one-stop shop” to help companies navigate the labyrinth was galvanized by the 2015 Commercial Space Launch and Competitiveness Act (P.L. 114-90) that directed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to come up with a “mission authorization” approach to ensure the United States complies with Article VI.

The debate generally is over whether it should be the Department of Transportation, of which FAA is part, or the Department of Commerce, which includes NOAA. The Obama Administration picked the Department of Transportation, but time ran out before they could implement it. The Trump Administration chose the Department of Commerce and legislation almost cleared Congress to that effect in 2018, but failed at the last moment.

Now it’s the Biden Administration’s turn and companies are eager to get the matter settled. Harris spoke about the need to update the regulatory regime in August 2022. At a Space Council meeting on September 10, she specifically asked agencies to submit proposals to her within 180 days, a fast approaching deadline.

Richard DalBello, Director, Office of Space Commerce, NOAA, speaks to the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group, February 23, 2023. Screengrab.

Richard DalBello, Director of NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce, made it clear to the UAG that Commerce would be happy to take it on. Sitting next to Chirag Parikh, Deputy Assistant to the President and Executive Secretary of the National Space Council, DalBello explained that his office already regulates commercial remote sensing “and depending on how the dialogue goes in the future, and I defer to my colleague on my right, we may have a few more responsibilities ahead of us.”

He looks at the issue more broadly, however, with a view to the longer-term future.

“I think we need to ask ourselves how we can reimagine regulation a generation from now. Not for tomorrow, not for next year, but in a generation with all the tools and technology we have.

How do we take the current process, which is kind of archaic — you’re an entrepreneur, you come to Washington, you hire some beltway bandits, you go talk to people and they think first it’s completely incomprehensible, then slowly sort of get it, and then you hire people to do that because you don’t want to do it anymore. And I’m just saying — can we do better? I think the answer should be yes. — Richard DalBello, NOAA Office of Space Commerce

Where it goes from here remains to be seen, but the expectation is that the Biden-Harris Administration will have a recommendation soon.

User Comments

SpacePolicyOnline.com 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.