Earlier this week President Obama formally signed into law the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization act. This means that the satellite export control reform provisions included in the bill are now law, much to the relief of the satellite industry and other proponents of reform. However, it was not the only—or even, necessarily, the most controversial—space-related provision in the overall bill.
The most controversial part of the bill might well be Section 913, titled “Limitation On International Agreements Concerning Outer Space Activities.” That section addresses the administration’s interest in an international “code of conduct” for outer space activities, one that has generated some opposition among some Republican members of Congress. The section requires, among other things, that the administration, should it sign such a code, to provide “a certification that such agreement has no legally-binding effect or basis for limiting the activities of the United States in outer space” and also that it “have no militarily significant impact on the ability of the United States to conduct military or intelligence activities in space.”
That section was one of several cited by the President in his signing statement for the bill on Thursday. It and several other sections “could interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct the foreign relations of the United States,” President Obama stated. “In these instances, my Administration will interpret and implement these provisions in a manner that does not interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy.”
The debate about the code of conduct provisions may be little more than academic, though. As noted here last month, there’s been little progress on developing a code, and some think the concept, at least in anything like its current form, may be dead.
Other sections of the bill dealing with space issues are less controversial. Section 914 addresses the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office, whose future appeared to be in jeopardy last year. The section revises the office’s organization and structure somewhat, placing it within the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, or SMC (although not to be co-located at the SMC headquarters.) The bill also creates an “executive committee” to provide oversight of the ORS Office; this committee, led by the Defense Department’s executive agent for space, includes the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, commander of US Strategic Command, and Air Force, Army, and Navy officials.
The bill also includes “commercial space launch cooperation” language that was in the House version of the bill and previously proposed as a standalone bill by Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) earlier last year. It allows the Defense Department to enter into agreements to make investments into its launch site infrastructure to support commercial as well as government activities.