Ross to Create Department of Commerce SPACE Administration

Ross to Create Department of Commerce SPACE Administration

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has announced that he will create a Space Policy Advancing Commercial Enterprise (SPACE) Administration that will operate under his direct supervision.  It will coordinate the Department’s engagement in commercial space activities and each bureau within the Department with space responsibilities must designate a liaison to the new Administration.

Ross made the announcement following President Trump’s signing of Space Policy Directive-2 (SPD-2) on May 24.   One major thrust of SPD-2 is creating a “one-stop shop” at Commerce for commercial space companies to obtain whatever regulatory approvals they need to conduct business.

Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce. Credit: Department of Commerce.

The term is somewhat misleading since many U.S. commercial space companies still need to engage with two other government agencies.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) assigns radio frequencies, which are needed for any space activity that involves sending signals to and receiving signals from space objects.  Any company that wants to launch an object into space or bring it back to Earth needs a license from the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is part of the Department of Transportation.

The Department of Commerce will take care of everything else, however, pursuant to SPD-2.  Ross said in his May 24 announcement that he was transmitting to Congress that day his proposal to create the SPACE Administration.  Enacting it into law would give the Administration legal standing rather than being based only on a presidential Executive Order.

Ross said the SPACE Administration would be responsible for “promoting, administering, and regulating commercial space activities” within the Department.

The Department of Commerce covers a broad range of responsibilities that are separated into 12 bureaus and offices plus the Office of the Secretary.  Ross identified five of the 12 as having space-related responsibilities and therefore directed to designate a liaison to the new SPACE Administration:  the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), the International Trade Administration (ITA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Two NOAA offices will be transferred to the SPACE Administration:  the Office of Space Commerce and the Office of Commercial Remote Sensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Ross said in the May 24 announcement that a “burgeoning commercial space market is imperative to creating jobs, promoting economic growth, and ensuring national security. … We have a new mantra–government must engage not just in oversight, but also in insight, and foresight.  That is what industry needs!”

Since becoming Secretary of Commerce in February 2017, Ross has become an avid commercial space advocate.  His enthusiasm has been on display at the two public meetings of the White House National Space Council and in many other public comments, including after attending the launches of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and NOAA’s GOES-S earlier this year.

On Friday, the day after issuing his SPACE Administration announcement, he published an op-ed in the New York Times that went even further, proclaiming “That Moon Colony Will Be A Reality Sooner than You Think.” It is also available on the Department’s website.

While some may question the Secretary’s notion of how soon that actually will happen, the op-ed underscores what he himself describes as his “passion” for space.  In the op-ed, he says “I can still remember when President John F. Kennedy declared that America would put a man on the moon and when Neil Armstrong took that first step on the lunar landscape. Glued to televisions, Americans were filled with excitement and national pride during the Apollo missions.” He “felt that same passion” listening to Vice President Mike Pence speak at April’s Space Symposium in Colorado Springs as Pence talked about unleashing the “boundless potential of America’s pioneering commercial space companies.”

Born November 28, 1937, Ross would have been 23 when JFK announced the Moon goal and 31 when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon.  His career has not been in space, however.  According to his official biography, he has 55 years of experience in investment banking and private equity.  He has been chairman or lead director of more than 100 companies operating in 20 countries and is “the only person elected both to the Private Equity Hall of Fame and the Turnaround Management Hall of Fame.”

His proposal to create a SPACE Administration is likely to be welcomed in Congress.  The House already passed a bill designating Commerce as the one-stop shop for commercial space.  The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act easily passed the House by voice vote with bipartisan support on April 24.  The bill’s sponsor is House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX).  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was one of the original co-sponsors when he was a Congressman from Oklahoma.

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee reportedly is working on a Senate version of the bill.  Although legislative time for this year is running low already, if agreement can be reached among the stakeholders, there is a reasonable chance a bill could become law before the 115th Congress ends.

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