New policy directive implements commercial space regulatory reforms

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Updated 9:00 p.m. Eastern with reaction to the policy.

PASADENA, Calif. — A new policy President Trump signed May 24 will implement a series of regulatory reforms to support commercial space recommended by the National Space Council earlier this year.

Space Policy Directive (SPD) 2, signed by the president in a private Oval Office ceremony, includes several sections to carry out streamlining of launch and remote sensing regulations, creation of a “one-stop-shopping” office for commercial space, and reviews of radiofrequency and export control policy.

“This directive will encourage American leadership in space commerce by creating more certainty for investors and private industry, while focusing on protecting our national security and public safety,” Vice President Mike Pence, head of the National Space Council, said in a statement after the signing.

Scott Pace, executive secretary of the National Space Council, told reporters on a conference call May 24 that the policy is intended to carry out recommendations enacted by the council at its most recent public meeting Feb. 21.

“SPD-2 directs new policy with regards to commercial space regulations,” he said. “The United States is the greatest spacefaring nation on the planet. President Trump recognizes space is crucial to our security, economy and international leadership.”

One section of the policy addresses launch licensing, requiring the Secretary of Transportation, who oversees the Federal Aviation Administration, to “release a new regulatory system for managing launch and re-entry activity, targeting an industry that is undergoing incredible transformation with regulations that have failed to keep up,” according to a White House fact sheet.

A second section deals with commercial remote sensing regulatory reform. “The current regulatory system is woefully out of date and needs significant reform to ensure the United States remains the chosen jurisdiction for these high tech companies,” the fact sheet states.

A related section calls on the Secretary of Commerce to provide a plan to create a “one-stop shop” within his department “for administering and regulating commercial space flight activities.” The Commerce Department had previously announced plans to combine the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs office with the Office of Space Commerce, giving the latter office that regulatory role for issues other than launch and communications.

The policy directs several agencies, including Commerce, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Federal Communications Commission, to develop a plan for “improving global competitiveness” of policies, regulation and other activities dealing with the use of radiofrequency spectrum for space activities.

A final section of the policy directs the National Space Council to review export control regulations regarding commercial spaceflight activities and provide recommendations within 180 days.

The policy closely follows the recommendations from the February meeting of the National Space Council. However, White House officials, speaking on background, said they don’t expect immediate changes as a result of the policy since many of the changes, like changes to regulations, will take months to implement through standard rulemaking processes.

Some changes, the officials acknowledge, will require legislation to enact, such as authority to license “non-traditional” commercial space activities. The House approved last month approved a bill, the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act, to carry out some of those changes, while the Senate Commerce Committee is drafting its own. The administration is in discussions with House and Senate members on needed legislation, the officials said.

Industry groups welcomed the policy’s signing. “We’ve been innovating here at home and competing around the world under the burden of regulations written decades ago, in some cases rooted in the Cold War,” said Alan Stern, chairman of the board of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, in a statement. “Now we can foresee a more streamlined legal and administrative regime that will allow us to continue to help transform how Americans access and use space.”

“SIA is delighted with the president’s recognition of the importance of the commercial space business and we applaud his policy directive that encourages the continued growth and leadership of America’s commercial satellite industry,” said Tom Stroup, president of the Satellite Industry Association (SIA). “The directive also acknowledges the tremendous industry transformation that is currently underway and we are encouraged by the mandate to reform and modernize the federal regulatory framework that governs the industry.”

While the policy does not specifically mention NASA, agency administrator Jim Bridenstine, who advocated for similar regulatory reforms as a member of the House, said in a statement NASA would be working with the Secretary of Transportation to support launch licensing reform and the Commerce Department on the consolidation of other regulatory activity within the Office of Space Commerce.

“A light but focused regulatory touch will help our industry partners provide the best and safest services for our nation and expedite their work,” Bridenstine said in a NASA statement. “There are many innovative companies across this nation working hard to build a bright future in space, and our policies should help ensure their success on all fronts.”

The administration is separately considering a space traffic management policy that Vice President Mike Pence announced at the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs April 16. That policy would give the Commerce Department’s Office of Space Commerce new authority to provide space situational awareness services for civil and commercial operators.

“I would hope that our next step after this one will be a policy directive on space traffic management,” a White House official said on background, adding nothing is official yet regarding that proposed policy.

In his statement about SPD-2, Pence said the White House would host the next meeting of the National Space Council June 18.