September 16, 2013
Credit: China Space News
Long-sought changes in the way the U.S. controls satellite-component exports will not necessarily solve satcom-industry problems with the process, and could even make them worse in the near term.
Similarly, the export-reform regulations making their way through the U.S. federal bureaucracy may hamper new industries where the U.S. holds a clear lead today, including suborbital human spaceflight.
Officials are working their way through about 100 formal comments on proposed export-licensing reforms for satellites, but final action will not take effect until next year. The sheer volume of comments on the proposals to move some satellite hardware from the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) administered by the State Department to the Commerce Control List (CCL) at the Commerce Department is slowing the process, as is the effect of funding sequestration on the officials' work schedules.
The target of all this bureaucratic back-and-forth is the Chinese launch industry (see page 50). But the draft measure to ease satellite-export controls itself includes language that can complicate future U.S. space-launch prospects by specifically excluding “man-rated” spacecraft.
“This is the same backward path provided to the U.S. satellite manufacturing and launch community two decades ago that almost decimated that industry,” blogs Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer at XCOR Aerospace, which is building a two-seat suborbital spaceplane for the research and space-tourist markets. “Even before we can achieve a meaningful-sized global market, and dominate it with U.S. companies, there is the real possibility that we will be hampered.”
Also unhappy with the way the “reform” law is shaking out is the hosted-payload community, which seeks to lower the cost of getting sensors, communications links and other payloads into space by sending them there piggybacked on other spacecraft. The new regulations exclude “Department of Defense-funded secondary or hosted payload[s] and specially designed parts and components therefor” from Commerce Department oversight. But the U.S. government plans to procure all of its hosted payloads through an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract managed by the U.S. Air Force. That approach would force hosted payloads onto the munitions list, even if they are civilian or commercial in nature.
Because most state-of-the-art satellite hardware is U.S.-made, it is virtually impossible to launch a satellite that was not built in China on a Chinese Long March launch vehicle (see article below). Intelsat, the largest commercial fixed-satellite operator, does not even try, even though the Long March is competitive.