Commerce Department to create “SPACE Administration”

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LOS ANGELES — With the signing of a new presidential directive calling for commercial space regulatory reform, the Commerce Department has released new details about its plans to create a “one-stop shop” for such issues.

In a statement issued after the May 24 signing of Space Policy Directive 2, the department said it plans to combine several existing offices into a new office called the Space Policy Advancing Commercial Enterprise (SPACE) Administration.

The SPACE Administration, the department said, will incorporate the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs office and the Office of Space Commerce, currently part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The department was already planning such a consolidation of the offices, which would be moved out of NOAA and directly under Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Ross has also directed Commerce Department agencies that deal with space in one fashion or another to assign a liaison to the new office. Those offices include the Bureau of Industry and Security, International Trade Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, NOAA and National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

In an op-ed published on the White House website May 25, and which first appeared in the New York Times, Ross said the SPACE Administration will improve regulation of the space industry by combining functions spread across several agencies.

“When companies seek guidance on launching satellites, the Space Administration will be able to address an array of space activities, including remote sensing, economic development, data-purchase policies, GPS, spectrum policy, trade promotion, standards and technology and space-traffic management,” he wrote. “The new office will also enable the department to manage its growing responsibilities in space.”

That office’s work, he added, would extend to promotion of the industry as well, particularly at the international level. “But as the agency charged with promoting job creation and economic growth, we will not engage only in oversight, but will support American companies so they can compete and lead on a level playing field,” he wrote.

Ross has previously discussed including space in the department’s SelectUSA international investment forum in June. The latest schedule for the conference shows Ross holding an “armchair discussion” on commercial space and innovation at the conference June 22.

The permanent creation of the SPACE Administration will require legislation, and the department said in its statement it is preparing a legislative proposal to do so. A House bill passed in April, the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act, already includes some of those measures. The Senate is planning its own commercial space bill but has not introduced it yet.

“In some cases, like the formation of the one-stop shopping office within the Commerce Department, the secretary can, of course, reorganize his own office as he is doing on his own authority,” said a White House official, speaking on background. “But, in terms of a more permanent position, we will need the Congress, and we are working with the Congress, both the House and Senate, on legislation that would be a more permanent recognition of their reorganization.”

One former government official involved in commercial space welcomed the move but added that it alone is not sufficient to address the bigger issues regarding coordination of government oversight of space activities.

“That sounds promising,” said George Nield, former associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, during a May 27 panel discussion at the International Space Development Conference here about improving management of government space activities.

“I get the impression that that plan is likely only going to talk about space-related activities within the Department of Commerce,” he added. “While that’s a positive step, if that’s all it does, it does not fix the problem we’ve been talking about here.”