The Space Access ’07 conference is filled with talks from a variety of individuals and companies involved in the development of new space transportation systems. However, like seemingly every other space industry meeting these days, there was also a session about export control (aka ITAR). Export control is a major issue for many of these small ventures, which don’t have the resources of larger aerospace companies to deal with the regulatory process and run the risk of running into problems. So there was a useful presentation by export control lawyer Kerry Scarlott about the ins and outs of ITAR and questions about what is and isn’t covered, plus the usual exchange of “horror stories” about companies than ran into unexpected ITAR problems.
That presentation was followed by a panel featuring Scarlott, Randall Clague of XCOR Aerospace, Jim Muncy of PoliSpace, and Rand Simberg of Transterrestrial Musings. A major topic of discussion was this: is there any realistic chance of getting some sort of export control reform passed in the near future to lessen the regulatory burden on the space industry? The panel was skeptical, in part because while the Democrats are in control of Congress, Republicans need to take a leading role in pushing through change to avoid having any reform effort being criticized as evidence that the Democrats are weak on national security issues. “Unless we can find a way to get some Republicans to take the lead and inoculate Democrats from any flanking maneuvers by other Republicans, I don’t see anyone taking the lead and actually trying to fix this in a serious way,” said Muncy. Scarlott, in his presentation, said, “There are a lot of changes potentially afoot in ITAR. I emphasize ‘potentially’ because it’s unlikely significant changes will occur in the next couple of years.”
But it could be worse. As Simberg put it, referring to a noted critic of export control reform: “I’m very glad to see Duncan Hunter running for president. I hope he does it for a long time. I hope he doesn’t win, but as long as he’s running for president he might be too distracted to keep us from doing something useful.”