PALO ALTO, CALIF. — Although it will be months before the U.S. government reveals details of its plans to reform satellite export rules, space industry observers are optimistic that the changes will make U.S. businesses more competitive by eliminating some of the bureaucratic hurdles they must clear and by improving their ability to communicate with customers and colleagues.
On Jan. 3, President Barack Obama signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, repealing a 1999 law that placed space-related hardware and services on the U.S. list of technologies whose exports are tightly controlled by the U.S. Department of State. The new law allows the president to transfer authority for the export of space-related items to the Commerce Department.
“It seems clear that many satellite technologies will be moved to the control of the Commerce Department,” said Alex Saltman, executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. Once the Commerce Department receives authority to oversee export of specific space-related technologies, companies can anticipate shorter approval times as well as “a presumption of approval rather than a presumption of denial,” he added.
Saltman, a former congressional staffer, was speaking Jan. 31 at space entrepreneurship forum here organized by The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, in collaboration with the Stanford Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation.
For more than a decade, some space companies have shied away from selling spacecraft parts to international customers. “Especially for small parts, the cost of obtaining regulatory approval was not necessarily worth it,” Saltman said. “That cuts the market for these companies,” which has made the businesses less attractive to investors.
In addition, the recent legislation is expected to expand the free flow of information. U.S. export rules have prevented scientists and engineers from discussing space-related technology and products with customers and colleagues. For Space Systems/Loral, which was purchased in November by MDA Corp. of Canada, this has meant that executives could not freely talk about certain topics with MDA’s president, said Chris Hoeber, Space Systems/Loral senior vice president.
“In my opinion, the companies we work with hate [the regulations], but have learned to deal with them,” Hoeber said. “But it’s really insulting for me not to be able to tell customers how I’m solving a problem.”