WASHINGTON — Legislation aimed at relaxing U.S. export controls for satellites and related components could come before the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as May 16 as part of the 2013 defense authorization bill.

Satellites and satellite components are currently on the U.S. Munitions List, making them military technologies whose export is tightly regulated by the State Department. Nonmilitary and so-called dual-use technologies are subject to the less-restrictive Commerce Control List administered by the U.S. Commerce Department.

In April, the so-called 1248 report from the U.S. State and Defense departments endorsed giving the president the authority to move most communications satellites, along with some space-based remote sensing technologies, to Commerce jurisdiction. Since virtually all satellite-related technologies were placed on the Munitions List via legislation, an  act of Congress is required to make the change.

In November, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) introduced a bill to do just that, and according to one House staffer, the supporters of the measure could try and tack it onto the defense bill.

“The defense authorization act, one of those must-pass bills, is going to be on the House floor next Wednesday,” the staffer said May 10 here at a meeting of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (Comstac). “One of the things Mr. Berman and others would like to do is to attach the content of this bill as an amendment to that bill.”

The Senate has yet to draft a bill on satellite export control, but Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said April 18 that he planned to introduce such legislation in that chamber. In a closed-door meeting May 7, satellite industry representatives briefed Senate staff on the 1248 report, a congressional source said.

Getting an export reform bill to U.S. President Barack Obama in an election year is “not impossible at all, but it is a challenge,” the House staffer said at the Comstac meeting. “The political season is in high gear, and it’s not going to be too long before, basically, things are going to shut down so [Congress] can focus on appropriations bills and politically important authorization bills and resolutions that everyone can support.”

Patricia Cooper, president of the Satellite Industry Association here, said during the meeting that her group would continue lobbying for reform during this legislative session, which is nearly halfway complete.

“We have not given up hope for this year,” Cooper said. “We are absolutely committed. I think the stars have aligned in a way that they haven’t since this issue emerged.”

In addition to needing a State Department license to export Munitions List technologies, U.S. companies also must submit to government monitoring of related activities.

Lou Ann McFadden, chief of the strategic issues division at Defense Technology Security Administration, said the cost of government monitoring when a U.S. payload is launched aboard a foreign rocket is about $165,000. Of that, some $65,000 goes toward monitoring the launch, with the balance going toward monitoring prelaunch activities.

When Bigelow Aerospace launched prototype inflatable space habitats to low Earth orbit in 2006 and 2007, U.S. government monitors had to be present at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for payload integration and launch. Bigelow had to compensate each monitor at an hourly rate of about $140, Mike Gold, the company’s director of Washington operations and business growth, said.



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Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.