Making a Difference | Patricia Cooper, Former President, Satellite Industry Association

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Reforming U.S. space technology export rules and changing the way the U.S. government, the military in particular, procures commercial satellite capacity have been among the important, and stubborn, industry agenda items for the past decade.

Within the past year, however, there has been measurable progress on both fronts. Most importantly, the U.S. government on May 7 finalized new rules to transfer a host of space-related items from the U.S. State Department’s Munitions List, a registry of hardware and technology whose exports are strictly controlled, to the Commerce Department’s less-restrictive Commerce Control List. The new rules take effect in November.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense in March laid out a series of so-called pathfinder procurements aimed at demonstrating promising new methods for acquiring commercial satellite bandwidth. The first pathfinder recently was awarded to satellite operator SES for capacity aboard an aging satellite covering Africa. 

These developments were the result of a lot of hard work by many people, both in government and industry. As director of the Satellite Industry Association (SIA), a trade group that promotes satellite-friendly policies, Patricia Cooper was at the forefront of both efforts.

Cooper took the helm of the SIA in 2007 with a strong Washington résumé that included satellite-regulatory stints at the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Commerce and PanAmSat — now part of Intelsat. When she arrived, she had her work cut out for her.

Export reform required the passage of legislation that reversed elements of a 1999 law that transferred export jurisdiction for virtually all satellite-related items from Commerce to State. After several false starts, Congress in December 2012 did just that, passing legislation restoring the White House’s authority to determine export jurisdiction for space-related items. 

Cooper is credited with helping convince key U.S. lawmakers that reforming U.S. space technology export rules was the right thing to do. The new rules will be of tremendous help to an industry facing uncertainty due to declining U.S. defense spending.

For satellite telecommunications service providers, the pressing issue has been reforming the Pentagon’s outmoded bandwidth procurement practices, which industry officials say are inefficient and make it all but impossible to plan for the future. Here too Cooper played a pivotal role, especially in holding the Pentagon’s feet to the fire when one of its recent reform initiatives threatened to stray off course.

It remains to be seen how far the military will go in overhauling its bandwidth buying habits, but there are indications of growing momentum for change. For example, the U.S. Air Force recently unveiled plans for a second pathfinder, asking industry for information on opportunities to procure bandwidth from satellites prior to launch.

Though she prefers to work largely behind the scenes, Cooper’s efforts and influence on behalf of the satellite industry did not go unnoticed. On July 30, Intelsat, the world’s largest satellite operator, announced it had lured Cooper away from SIA to fill the newly created position of vice president of government affairs and policy.

Cooper began her new job Aug. 25. He departure ended the longest-running tenure of any SIA president, and left big shoes to fill at the organization.