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A small victory for export control reform

Often export control seems like the weather: everyone talks about, but no one seems to be able to do anything about it. ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations), the export control rules that govern the US space industry, are a frequent target of complaints, criticism, and calls for reform, such as recent efforts by Congressman Brad Sherman, chair of the trade subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. To date those efforts to reform ITAR has not resulted in success, but today there’s word of a small victory working within the current ITAR framework.

The Economist reports this morning that regulators have agreed that prospective spaceflight participants will not need any export control agreements to fly on US suborbital or orbital vehicles. There had been concern that non-US customers might need a technical assistance agreement (TAA) in order to legally obtain technical data about the vehicles they’re flying on, including basic information that would be neccesary for safety. Bigelow Aerospace asked for an exemption, arguing that, in the article’s words, “taking a passenger flight does not mean you can build an aeroplane”. The State Department apparently agrees, as Bigelow’s Mike Gold said they got “everything we could want” from the ruling, although citizens of some countries (China, Iran, North Korea, and Sudan) would be still not be allowed to fly.

In a related note, the AIAA is holding a half-day meeting titled “Entrepreneurial Space and Export Control: Red Tape in the Final Frontier” next Wednesday the 29th in Washington. Congressman C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger will be the keynote speaker, followed by panels providing the views of industry and government. Presumably this recent ruling will be one topic of discussion…

4 comments to A small victory for export control reform

  • Chance

    “…citizens of some countries (China, Iran, North Korea, and Sudan) would be still not be allowed to fly.”

    So, China can hold billions of our debt, not to mention hack into many sensitive computer systems, but can not ride on our commercial spaceships? Yeah. Okay. We showed them.

  • Dave Huntsman

    If true, I don’t understand including China; and I think it will hurt us.

    China is minting still healthy millionaires faster than anyone on the planet; just the type of folks who could be attracted to paying for flying. And I also don’t understand their not being able to rent a Bigelow module (Bigelow’s stations are for rent, not purchase). Again, in each case, we’re almost forcing the Chinese, instead of buying American, to develop their own – competing – capability.

    There needs to be a clear, specific, and compelling rationale for that type of restriction that more than offsets the (millions?) of dollars in trade and resultant high-tech jobs that are going to be lost if China continues to be excluded.. Does anyone know what that is? (Seriously, I”m asking).

  • Chance

    My earlier snark aside, if we are worried about espionage, then I still don’t see how such a ban helps. It is pretty much child’s play for any of the three countries to recruit a third party to collect information.

  • [...] wait a moment. Wasn’t this issue resolved last month, when The Economist reported that Bigelow had won an exemption that covered passengers on its orbital…? The issue was the same there: concerns that customers (spaceflight participants) would have to get [...]

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