White House reviewing information on mission authorization concepts

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

In a speech at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference on Feb. 9, Chirag Parikh, executive secretary of the board, said work continues on a proposal for what is known as “mission authorization” for commercial space activities. not currently regulated by other agencies. . Such authorization and ongoing supervision are required by Article 6 of the Outer Space Treaty.

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

The feedback revealed several broad issues, Parikh said. One, he said, is the need for a “clear, flexible and predictable” regulatory environment to ensure that US companies remain leaders globally.

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

At the National Space Council’s most recent meeting in September, Vice President Kamala Harris, who serves as chair of the council, called for proposals for authorizing and overseeing “new commercial space activities,” a month after a speech in which she criticized outdated regulations. . Those proposals are due in March, but it’s unclear how soon after that the White House will release a mission authorization policy.

These plans are of interest to both companies and Congress. “One of the things that I think we’re collectively concerned about is regulatory uncertainty,” said Mary Lynne Dittmar, chief government and external affairs officer for Axiom Space, a developer of commercial space stations, during a panel later at the conference.

“The whole question of how this will all be managed in orbit for commercial entities is an ongoing concern,” she said of the mission authorization. “It’s something we need to come to a resolution on in the United States.”

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

Tom Hammond, senior policy adviser to 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 House bill that addressed the issue of mission authorization. . “We’ll look into that,” he said of the White House’s ongoing effort, “but it’s kind of déjà vu if they come back with the exact same proposal they made in 2016.”

Users Advisory Group will meet

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

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

Parikh emphasized the “diversity” of UAG, which in the past some have 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 climate scientists, and representatives of companies large and small.

The UAG will have six subcommittees: exploration and discovery, economic development and industrial base, climate and social benefits, data and emerging technology, education and diversity, and national security.

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

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