Space Council to Focus on Updating Commercial Space Regs

Space Council to Focus on Updating Commercial Space Regs

Vice President Kamala Harris said today the National Space Council is going to focus on updating rules for the commercial space industry to ensure it remains a world leader. The next Council meeting will take place in September to begin developing a new rules framework to ensure the clarity and consistency needed to attract investors.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaking at the Chabot Space and Science Center, Oakland, CA, August 12, 2022. Screenshot.

After meeting with commercial space industry leaders at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, CA, Harris stressed how much has changed for the U.S. space industry since regulations were first written in the 20th Century.

“To make sure our nation remains a role model for the responsible use of space” and keep pace with innovation, new rules are needed to provide “clarity and consistency” that can “incorporate the innovation that is occurring in real time,” she said.

“We understand that we have got to update the rules, because they’re just simply outdated.  They were written for a space industry of the last century.  And when I was going through here just today, speaking with some of our innovators and looking at where the technology has grown in just the last decade, we know that we really are quite behind in terms of maximizing our collective understanding about how we will engage on the technology of today and what we can quickly and easily predict will be the technology over the next decades.”

Her public comments were preceded by what the White House called a “tour” with private sector leaders to discuss challenges and opportunities in the U.S. space industry. A White House official said the companies represented were Capella, Maxar, Planet, Hawkeye 360, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, Axiom, Nanoracks, and Sierra Space. She was joined by representatives of the Department of Commerce, Department of Transportation, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Sala Ba, Patti Grace Smith Fellow, introducing Vice President Kamala Harris, August 12, 2022. Screenshot.

Harris’s message about the need for new rules echoes comments by FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel last week that “a new space age needs new rules because here on the ground the regulatory frameworks we rely on to shape space policy, they were largely built for another era.”

Harris was introduced by Sala Ba, a mechanical engineering student at Stanford University and a Patti Grace Smith Fellow and intern at Blue Origin.

Today’s event was in preparation for the next meeting of the Space Council that Harris said will take place on September 9.

Commercial space advocates often cite the lack of regulatory certainty as an impediment to attracting investors. Surprisingly few commercial space activities are regulated today: launch and reentry (FAA), remote sensing satellites (NOAA), and frequency assignments (FCC).

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires signatories like the United States to authorize and continually supervise the activities of non-governmental entities, but the U.S. regulatory system has not kept pace with the expansion of commercial space activities into businesses like satellite servicing, in-space manufacturing, or lunar exploration. The years-long debate over what Executive Branch agency should be in charge of “new space” activities — the Department of Commerce (of which NOAA is part) or the Department of Transportation (of which FAA is part) — remains unresolved. The FCC, which is not part of the Executive Branch, has stepped into the vacuum on issues like orbital debris and is ready to expand its role.

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