White House considers comments on mission authorization concepts

WASHINGTON — The National Space Council is continuing work on a proposed regulatory framework for commercial space activities that is being watched closely by industry and Congress.

In a speech at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference on Feb. 9, Chirag Parikh, the board’s executive secretary, said work was continuing on a proposal for what’s called an “authorization mission statement” for commercial space activities not currently regulated by other agencies. . This authorization and ongoing monitoring is required under Article 6 of the Outer Space Treaty.

This includes, he said, reviewing feedback the council received from the private sector during a series of “listening sessions” late last year. “We’ve received a huge amount,” he said, citing the diversity of responses not only from companies in the industry, but also from insurers and investors. “It’s definitely an issue we take seriously.”

The comments revealed several significant issues, Parikh said. One, he said, is the need for a “clear, flexible and predictable” regulatory environment to ensure that American companies remain a global leader.

A second problem is what he described as “the need for defined roles and responsibilities, as opposed to what some call the nebulosity of authorization for some of these types of missions”. A final issue is the focus on the sustainability of space given the growing number of satellites and debris in orbit. “This needs to be taken into account as we move forward, as we think about future space applications.”

At the National Space Council’s last meeting in September, Vice President Kamala Harris, who chairs the council, called for proposals for licensing and oversight of “commercial new space activities”, a month after a speech in which she criticized outdated regulations. . Those proposals are expected in March, but it’s unclear when the White House will issue a mission authorization policy.

These plans are of interest to both business and Congress. “One of the things that I think we are collectively worried about is regulatory uncertainty,” Mary Lynne Dittmar, head of government and external relations at Axiom Space, a developer of commercial space stations, told a panel. later in the conference.

“The whole question of how this is all going to be handled in orbit for commercial entities is an ongoing concern,” she said of the mission clearance. “This is an issue that we need to come to a resolution on in the United States.”

This extends to Congress, where the House and Senate are considering legislation to address mission authorization. “I’m looking forward to what the administration comes up with on which agency can accomplish this, which agency will have the right resources to make sure we don’t end up slowing down the whole process,” Richard-Duane Chambers said. . , a staff member of the Senate Commerce Committee, during a conference panel.

Tom Hammond, senior policy adviser on the House Science Committee, recalled a similar effort in response to a provision of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015, as well as a bill from the Chamber dealing with the issue of mission authorization. “We’ll look into it,” he said of the ongoing White House effort, “but it’s a bit of deja vu if they come back with the exact same proposal they made in 2016.”

User Advisory Group to meet

Parikh’s speech coincided with an announcement in the Federal Register of the first meeting of the council’s reconstituted User Advisory Group (UAG). The meeting is scheduled for February 23 in Washington.

The meeting is the first since the White House announced a new roster for the UAG in December. The committee is chaired by retired Air Force General Les Lyles, who also chairs the NASA Advisory Council. He is one of seven former UAG members selected by the White House for the new 30-member committee.

Parikh pointed to the “diversity” of UAG, which some have in the past criticized for focusing too much on the aerospace industry. The new committee included users of space products and services, such as the agricultural industry and climatologists, as well as representatives of large and small companies.

The UAG will have six subcommittees: Exploration and Discovery, Economic Development and Industrial Base, Climate and Societal Benefits, Emerging Data and Technologies, Education and Diversity, and National Security.

The next meeting, he said, will discuss the work plans of these subcommittees. “The UAG is a very important function. It is a very important ability to provide us with information.

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