PARIS — The export of U.S. satellites and satellite components was made subject to U.S. State Department licensing in 1999 following concerns that China was honing its missile technology through launches of commercial telecommunications satellites.

Since then, the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regime has governed satellite exports to U.S. allies and non-allies alike by placing satellite components on the U.S. Munitions List, where they are treated as if they were armaments.

ITAR does not cover each and every satellite component, but it covers enough hardware so that no satellite with substantial U.S. content has been cleared for export to China for launch on China’s Long March rocket since the late 1990s.

One of the ways the State Department verifies ITAR compliance is through so-called Blue Lantern inquiries, made by U.S. embassy personnel or by the State Department. According to the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), “Blue Lantern end-use monitoring entails pre-license, post-license or post-shipment inquiries or ‘checks’ undertaken to verify the bona fides of proposed foreign consignees and end users, to confirm the legitimacy of proposed transactions.”

For fiscal 2010, 1,046 Blue Lantern inquiries were initiated in 111 countries, and 723 Blue Lantern cases were closed. Of the closed cases, 150 were labeled “unfavorable,” which the DDTC says means “the findings of fact were not consistent with the license application or approval.”

The Blue Lantern program was initiated in 1990. It is overseen by the Research and Analysis Division of the DDTC’s Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance, which is part of the State Department’s Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs.



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Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.