President Trump signs off on directive to deregulate commercial space ventures

President Donald Trump has signed his administration’s second space policy directive, focusing on streamlining licensing procedures and turning the Commerce Department into a “one-stop shop” for commercial space companies.

Space Policy Directive 2 follows up on an initial directive that refocuses America’s space exploration vision on the moon, Scott Pace, executive secretary of the White House’s National Space Council, told reporters in advance of today’s signing.

Pace noted that NASA will be working with commercial partners to establish an outpost in lunar orbit and extend operations to the moon’s surface. “The Trump administration’s actions on space mean investments in high-tech, middle-class and blue-collar jobs that fuel our economy and secure our future,” he said.

The directive sets out a multipronged process for regulatory reform:

  • Within 30 days, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is to present a plan for creating a one-stop shop for administering and regulating commercial space activities.
  • The Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration are tasked with rewriting regulations for launch and re-entry operations, for implementation by early next year. The aim is to set up a single license that would cover all such operations.
  • The Commerce Department will reform regulations relating to commercial remote sensing. (This addresses regulatory snags like the one that SpaceX encountered in March when it was required to shut down the cameras on its Falcon 9 rocket shortly after reaching orbit.)
  • Commerce and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will draw up a report on improving global competitiveness through changes in radio frequency spectrum policies. (Spectrum will be an important issue as ventures such as SpaceX and OneWeb put constellations of satellites into low Earth orbit to provide global broadband access.)
  • The National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, is tasked with initiating a 180-day review of export licensing regulations for commercial spaceflight activity and developing recommendations for regulatory changes.

Speaking on background, senior administration officials said the regulatory changes may require putting more resources into the Transportation Department and Commerce Department to keep up with what could be an upswing in commercial space activity.

They also said the White House will be working with Congress on legislation that would help facilitate the “one-stop shop” approach to space regulations.

Planetary scientist Alan Stern, board chair of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said the new policy directive was “a tremendous accomplishment.”

“We’ve been innovating here at home and competing around the world under the burden of regulations written decades ago, in some cases rooted in the Cold War,” Stern said in a statement from the industry group. “Now we can foresee a more streamlined legal and administrative regime that will allow us to continue to help transform how Americans access and use space.”

The federation’s president, Eric Stallmer, said “the space frontier became a little more ‘open’ to the American people today.”

The commercial space industry could start pushing the regulatory frontiers within the next year.

Two companies founded by billionaires, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, are preparing to send passengers on suborbital rides to the edge of space and back. Other ventures such as Moon Express are due to start sending landers to the lunar surface as early as 2019.

NASA is expected to give a boost to such commercial moonshots in July when it issues a formal solicitation for lunar payload services. NASA’s first commercially flown lunar payloads will include scientific instruments that were developed for the now-canceled Resource Prospector mission.


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