The World Series of export control reform is yet to come

When Congress passed in December a defense authorization bill containing a long-sought satellite export control provision, the space industry understandably reacted with glee. However, as one leading proponent of such reform noted last week, the work in actually removing satellites and related components off the US Munitions List (USML), and thus no longer under the jurisdiction of ITAR, is not yet complete.

“What we got with the legislative victory was not reform itself, but the opportunity for reform,” explained Mike Gold of Bigelow Aerospace, the new chairman of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), during a session of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington last Thursday. Gold, who previously chaired COMSTAC’s export control working group, noted that the law now allows for these items to be moved off the USML, but does not itself take them off the list. “Everything that was under ITAR back in December is still ITAR today,” he said.

Gold said the administration plans to propose changes to items in each of the 21 categories of the USML, one at a time. Category XV, which covers spacecraft, is likely to be the third or fourth category taken up by the administration, which Gold said is an ideal position. “You don’t want to be the first category to come up, because I’m sure there will be a lot of confusion and a lot of process,” he said. “However, you don’t want to be number 21, because they might not get to it.”

The proposed changes to Category XV, Gold said, will likely follow the recommendations of the “Section 1248” report released last year that evaluated the national security implications of removing satellites and related items off the USML. “I think we’re going to see the entire 1248 report implemented by the end of this year,” he said.

Gold, a dedicated Boston Red Sox fan, likened the legislative reform to winning not the World Series, but the American League Championship Series (ALCS), the winner of which goes on to play in the World Series. If that parallel holds, it may be good news for the space industry: in their last two championships, in 2004 and 2007, the Red Sox had to come from behind to win the ALCS, but then went on to sweep the World Series.

4 comments to The World Series of export control reform is yet to come

  • JimNobles

    So are American launch providers going to be able to advertise their services as basically “ITAR Free”? If so, about how long will it take for the providers to be able to say that? What hoops are they going to have to jump through to make it happen? And who is likely to profit by it soonest, satellite launchers I suppose?

    • Neil Shipley

      It doesn’t really matter Jim, since the only U.S. launch provider who can compete on the international market is SpaceX who have ben busy signing customers. They probably have enough business to keep them happy for a few years while ITAR space is sorted out.

  • Fred Willett

    Yea, the launch market doesn’t matter so much as you don’t give away the secrets to your rocket. The problem is more for sats where manufacturers are actively discouraged from exporting components because of ITAR.
    Bigelow was also worried about having foreign nationals on his habitats without infringing ITAR.

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