International Partnerships, Mission Authorization, Export Control Reform Highlight Space Council Meeting

International Partnerships, Mission Authorization, Export Control Reform Highlight Space Council Meeting

Today’s third meeting of the Biden-Harris National Space Council was quick, lasting just over an hour. International partnerships were one focus of the gathering and the highlight was the opening speech by Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen, a member of the Artemis II crew. The White House’s proposals for regulating novel space activities — mission authorization — and export control reform were other key issues.

Canada and the United States have been partners in space since the beginning of the Space Age and Canada was the first country to accept NASA’s invitation to participate in the Artemis program. Canada built the robotic Canadarm remote manipulator system for the Space Shuttle and Canadarm2 for the International Space Station. Now it will build Canadarm3 for the Gateway space station that will orbit the Moon as part of the Artemis campaign.

Earlier this year, NASA named the four astronauts who will fly on Artemis II, the crewed test flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule scheduled for next year: three from NASA (Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover and Christina Koch) and Hansen from the Canadian Space Agency. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who chairs the National Space Council, met all of them last week at the White House.

Artemis II crew members: NASA astronauts Christina Koch, left, Victor Glover, Reid Wiseman, and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Jeremy Hansen, right, pose for a group photograph with U.S. President Joe Biden, center, in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023. Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Space Council meetings traditionally begin with a speech by the Vice President, but today that honor went to Hansen. What was remarkable was not so much what he said, as gracious and uplifting as it was, but the fact that someone from another country was offered the opening slot to underscore international cooperation.

Hansen credited Harris for setting a vision for the Space Council to “advance innovation and promote the opportunity of space for all of humanity” and the “true leadership” of the United States in bringing together the 33 nations that have signed the Artemis Accords “to ensure space exploration is conducted in a safe, sustainable and collaborative manner.”

Together we are inspiring the Artemis generation. We are proving that with collaboration and partnerships we can improve life here on Earth.
— Jeremy Hansen

Harris repaid the compliment in her remarks and noted that representatives of all 33 Artemis Accords nations were in attendance at the meeting.

Source: NASA

Hansen’s journey will take him around the Moon, but not to the surface. However, Harris announced that “an international astronaut” will land on the Moon along with U.S. astronauts “by the end of the decade.” The possibility of including an international astronaut as part of a U.S.-led lunar landing mission has been rumored for months. The hope that she would announce which country would be chosen did not materialize.

Harris also pointed out that today is the 4th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Space Force and congratulated the Space Force Guardians in attendance.  She left immediately after her remarks and her National Security Advisor, Phil Gordon, led the meeting.

The membership of the Space Council includes 13 members of the Cabinet plus other agency heads and assistants to the President, but today it was mostly their deputies on the dais. Only Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines were there.

Along with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Christopher Grady, they stressed the need for international collaboration to maintain space as a “sustainable, safe, stable, and secure” environment and the importance of the private sector in achieving U.S. goals through innovation.

Enabling a U.S. commercial space sector that is competitive on the global market was another major theme of the meeting. Earlier in the day the White House released a new framework for mission authorization to accompany the legislative proposal sent to Congress last month. A White House fact sheet says it will “enable the Executive Branch to better prepare for and shape the future space regulatory environment.”

Mission authorization refers to the regulatory processes to ensure the U.S. complies with Article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the activities of non-government entities like companies. Existing U.S. regulations cover some commercial space activities, but not new or “novel” concepts like satellite servicing or commercial space stations. The White House proposal would split responsibilities between the Department of Commerce and Department of Transportation. The framework lays out how those departments should work together to implement that direction.

President Biden and I are committed to establishing rules for commercial space activities that are strong enough to promote the safe and predictable use of space but flexible enough to ensure that we do not stifle innovation.  We intend that these domestic rules will serve as a model for global action. — Vice President Harris

Export controls are one factor affecting U.S. commercial competitiveness globally. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) intended to prevent adversaries from acquiring certain U.S. technologies can backfire and prevent companies from marketing their products overseas.

Sullivan said “we are continuing to ensure that our regulations like export controls are protecting against weapons proliferation without interfering with and, in fact, promoting space innovation.”

The Department of State implements ITAR and the so-called Munitions List of prohibited exports while the Department of Commerce is in charge of regulating exports of “dual-use” technologies on the Commerce Control List. Don Graves, Deputy Secretary of Commerce, said they are updating “control lists and policies to be more effective” and that overall the goal is to develop “a light touch, industry-friendly approach to ensure that the U.S. space industry is competitive and that we can lead well into the 21st Century.”

Gordon tasked the group on behalf of Harris to review space-related export controls “to better align them with our broader policy objectives and enable a globally competitive U.S. space industrial base.”

Export controls have been the bane of commercial space companies for a long time. Mike Gold, now with Redwire, has fought the export control reform battle with some success for two decades since his years working with Bigelow Aerospace when it was planning to build commercial space stations. But more work is needed. Gold told this evening that it’s a “vital issue” and he’s glad Harris and the Space Council are willing to take it on.

“Second only to gravity, export controls have the greatest chance of keeping American aerospace grounded.  This is why I’m extraordinarily grateful for the Vice President and the Space Council explicitly tackling such a nuanced yet vital issue.  Technology is in a constant state of evolution, which is why export control rules must be continuously reviewed and updated to prevent them from becoming obsolete and counterproductive.  Specifically, such a review should ensure that technologies which are widely available on the international marketplace are not being controlled.  Moreover, the export control benefits which the International Space Station currently enjoys need to be extended to cover commercial space stations.  Finally, we should at least review the potential of simplifying export controls by merging the United States Munitions List and the Commerce Control List into a single list to reduce redundancy, conflict, and confusion.”  — Mike Gold


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