Other, White House

Miscellaneous policy news

The space policy news cycle—such as it is—has been dominated in the last week by developments in the Republican presidential race, thanks to speeches and debate appearances by the major candidates. However, there are a few other things that have taken place during the last week worth mentioning:

The Obama Administration has delayed the release of its fiscal year 2013 budget proposal by a week. The budget was to be released on February 6, but instead will be released on February 13. Federal law officially requires the budget proposal to be released on the first Monday of February, but the administration has missed that date in previous releases. (Plus, presumably everyone will be talking on February 6 about the Super Bowl the previous night, or at least the commercials that aired during the big game…)

While Americans have been discussing the space policy positions of Republican candidates, Indians have been witness to an emerging controversy involving the former head of the nation’s space agency. Last Wednesday the Indian government formally barred former Indian Space Research Organisation head G Madhavan Nair and three other officials from any future government positions. The government cited their roles approving a deal between ISRO’s commercial arm, Antrix, and a telecommunications company, Devas, in 2005, giving the company a chunk of S-band spectrum in violation of existing regulations. The government canceled the deal last year as part of its investigation. Nair has been fighting back against the ban, and on Monday he formally asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to revoke the ban and probe the government’s actions.

Satellite broadband company LightSquared continues its debate with the government officials about the potential interference the company’s proposed ground-based portion of its system would have with GPS signals. An interagency group concluded that there’s no way for LightSquared to operate with GPS without causing interference, a conclusion LightSquared disputes, as Aviation Week reports. Meanwhile, the company has filed an ethics complaint with NASA’s Office of the Inspector General, claiming that the vice chairman of the government’s National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Advisory Board, Bradford Parkinson, has a conflict of interest with a GPS terminal manufacturer flighting the LightSquared system.

This weekend, the Northeast Junior State Congress Convention will take place in the Washington area, including a Model Congress. Interestingly, according to the press release announcing the event, the legislation students will be considering during the Model Congress includes “a bill to promote privatized human space exploration”.

4 comments to Miscellaneous policy news

  • Dave Huntsman

    Just because we don’t comment on status’ like this doesn’t mean we’re not reading it. Keep it up, Jeff!

  • amightywind

    LightSquared is doomed. It is a binary proposition. Either you interfere with GPS and you don’t. LightSquared is trying to get away with a little interference.
    It ain’t gonna happen.

  • Googaw

    Great post! It’s particular good to see an issue that is far more important to space development than the crackpot “visions” of politicians — namely property rights in space. An issue that doesn’t have to wait for lunar bases or colonies, but is being thrashed out in the here and now with real space commerce.

    It’s popular for ideologues to observe that radio, invented during the height of popularity of soc**l*sm, is owned by “the public” (i.e. in the U.S., our federal government). Nevertheless, as a matter of streamlining how the feds license radio frequencies (“license” itself being an important property law concept), it is defined, bought, and sold much like private property, and if that were not the case industries that use radio would resemble the industry in general of places like North Korea. (It would be much better if these “licenses” were recognized for what they are increasingly are and should become, namely long-term leases or even outright titles. But that is a discussion for another day).

    So let’s apply to the LightSquared case an important principle of private property: adverse possession. My understanding (please correct if wrong) is that GPS technology had for many decades relied on the spectrum near its officially allocated spectrum being clean. Indeed, billions of dollars have been invested and large numbers of existing ground stations still rely on it. This was and is common knowledge in the industry — something LightSquared could and should have learned before investing in that spectrum. So even though it doesn’t have an official allocation of this spectrum, GPS has effectively homesteaded it, under the principle of adverse possession: it has come to rely on it, owners of the adjacent spectrum were on notice of this reliance, and they didn’t for a long period of time oppose it.

    The third point might be argued. Have people desiring to use this spectrum have also been fighting for decades for the right to use it? This is where the analogy to adverse possession might break down, because under normal property law authorities would enforce property law in a timely manner (in this case prevent GPS technology from relying on the cleanliness of neighboring frequencies). Continued opposition would put the GPS people on notice that such opposition to their homesteading claims made such enforcement likely and stopped the statute of limitations clock so that adverse possession cannot apply.

    Alas, instead of private property principles this board seems to be just a matter of the lobbying force of GPS vs. the lobbying force of LightSquared. It’s terrible, BTW, that this board operates under NASA “auspices”. GPS was developed by the U.S. Air Force for to solve very important and life-threatening problems of national security. It turned out, as it often does, that a solution to those important and practical military problems also solved important and practical civilian problems. So we now have a very large private sector industry of GPS ground stations (while the U.S. military continues to give the service away free to the world — a very interesting topic itself but also for another day). NASA had very little positive role in this process — it has been too busy pursing the economic fantasies of politicians. And now LightSquared gets to complain to NASA? Pathological. This issue should be decided according to property rights principles in the civilian courts, not by a bureaucracy where one can appeal to, of all people, NASA.

  • BeanCounterfromDownunder

    Yes thanks for the summary Jeff. I’ll echo Dave’s sentiments.

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