COLORADO SPRINGS – Export control rules promised in 2019, when the U.S. State Department Directorate of Defense Trade Controls and the U.S. Commerce Department Bureau of Industry and Security announced plans to revise the U.S. Munitions List, are likely to be published by the end of the year.

The updated rules for launch vehicles, spacecraft and related articles “is still in the works,” Jason Kim, acting chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce, said April 17 during a Space Symposium regulatory panel.

In-Space Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing

One important topic that is likely to be addressed by the new rules is in-space servicing, assembly and manufacturing (ISAM). Startups and established companies are rapidly developing spacecraft to extend the life of other satellites, repair mechanical issues or remove them from orbit at the end of missions.

In April 2022, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy released a national ISAM strategy with goals for supporting the development of technologies and services ranging from refueling and repairing satellites to building new spacecraft in orbit.

ITAR Licenses

Under existing rules, ISAM activities face stringent export controls.

“In general, if you want to sell this capability to a commercial partner that’s not in the United States, you’re going to need an export license to have that interaction with the other company’s spacecraft because there’s going to be an exchange of technical information about designs and engineering to ensure that you can interact with that other spacecraft,” Kim said.

To share technical information, ISAM companies will need licenses under existing International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

“That’s a cumbersome process,” Kim said. “There’s a fee. There’s a registration process.” And it can take a long time.  

“It would be much better and much easier for industry if all that can be done at Commerce under the Export Administration Regulation system, which is a lot more business-friendly,” Kim said.

Not too late to comment

Although the comment period for the 2019 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ended years ago, Kim suggested people interested in the subject share their comments and concerns with the State Department.

“Just because the docket has closed, doesn’t mean they’re not going to accept your comments,” Kim said. “They will still accept your inputs and consider them.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...