Today’s Tidbits: April 3, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: April 3, 2018

Here are our tidbits for April 3, 2018:  SpaceX/NOAA mystery solved; meet James Uthmeier, the Department of Commerce’s “regulatory reform officer.”  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

SpaceX/NOAA Mystery Solved

It came as quite a surprise on Friday when SpaceX ended the livestream of its Iridum NEXT launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base just before second stage shut down.  The announcer said that due to restrictions from NOAA “SpaceX will be intentionally ending live video coverage of the 2nd stage just prior to engine shutdown. We’re working with NOAA to address these restrictions in order to hopefully be able to bring you live views from orbit in the future.”

Since SpaceX routinely broadcasts launches all the way to orbit, the question was why Friday’s launch was different from all the others, including the Falcon Heavy launch in February where video was transmitted from the Tesla car and its mannequin with the Earth in the background.

Tahara Dawkins, Director, Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs office, NOAA. Credit: Dawkins’ LinkedIn page.

At a meeting of NOAA’s Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES) today, Tahara Dawkins, Director of NOAA’s Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) office explained the situation.

Under existing law, SpaceX should have been getting licenses all along for transmissions that show Earth’s features.  That includes the Falcon Heavy Tesla launch.  It was the latter that prompted discussions between NOAA and Space X about the need for licenses.  Dawkins told in an interview after the meeting that SpaceX told NOAA that it was unaware that licenses were required until contacted by NOAA.  It then applied for a license to broadcast the Iridium NEXT launch, but just four days in advance.  That was not enough time for NOAA to complete all its reviews, hence the requirement that the transmission be terminated before orbit was achieved.  A license was not required for yesterday’s cargo launch to the International Space Station because it was a government (NASA) payload, she added.

The 1992 Land Remote Sensing Policy Act establishes the regulatory requirements for imaging Earth and assigns the task to the Department of Commerce. The regulations have been updated many times and are under review by Congress right now.   The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act (H.R. 2809), approved by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee last year, would make substantial changes.

For now, however, the rules are the rules.  Asked whether SpaceX violated the rules with its earlier non-licensed transmissions, Dawkins demurred, saying that she would not know without looking specifically at what took place.

Meet the Department of Commerce’s Regulatory Reform Officer, James Uthmeier

Meanwhile, participants in the ACCRES meeting today were introduced to James Uthmeier who has been tasked by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to deregulate space.  Ross’s goal is to make the United States the “flag of choice for space.”

James Uthmeier, Senior Counsel to the General Counsel, Department of Commerce. Credit: Uthmeier’s LinkedIn page.

Ross appointed him as the Department’s “regulatory reform officer” in February, he said, conceding that it will take a lot of work with stakeholders, including ACCRES members, to do that. Ross’s goal is to create an environment that encourages space companies to locate here rather than abroad — to be the “flag of choice for space.”  Ross wants to make the current $330 billion space industry a “multi-trillion industry.” Uthmeier enthused it would happen sooner than anyone thinks.

Commerce will create an “elevated and amplified office” within the Office of the Secretary that “better coordinates all the things we do at Commerce to try and help space business” including not just commercial remote sensing satellite regulations, but spectrum policy, export controls, and trade promotion.

The Department already is having “space team” meetings every week to ensure that all the Bureaus are “coordinated and on the same page.”

CRSRA and NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce are to be relocated from NOAA to the Secretary’s office.  Uthmeier said steps are underway to appoint a Director of the Office of Space Commerce, a position he said has been vacant for more than a decade. The Department of Commerce is “not really regulatory,” he insisted.  Instead “we want to empower and promote business.”

From a remote sensing satellite regulatory perspective, what is needed is “predictability and reliability,” and although we “don’t want jeopardize national security,” the current remote sensing regulations are old and need to change.   Asked if the Department supports the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act (H.R. 2809), Uthmeier hedged, saying only that the Administration supports some of the provisions while others need work.

Overall, he seemed quite enthusiastic about working on space deregulation.  According to his LinkedIn page, his J.D. is from Georgetown Law.  He was a law clerk in the office of Senator Marco Rubio from December 2012-January 2014, and then an associate at Jones Day before joining the Department of Commerce at the beginning of the Trump Administration.

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