The mid-May publication of the “draft final” export control rule for satellites and related components largely brought the saga of export control reform to an end, with the exception of a few loose ends, such as aperture limits for remote sensing systems. The administration’s decision was a major, but not complete, victory for the space industry. One area where they sought but did not win change was in human spaceflight: crewed vehicles, both suborbital and orbital, will remain on the US Munitions List (USML) and thus under the jurisdiction of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
“Spacecraft specially designed for human space flight that have integrated propulsion present another security concern, for such capabilities may be used for the purposes of weapons targeting from space,” the State Department noted in its final ruling. “So, although these technologies and capabilities are used in commercial endeavors, they continue to merit control on the USML.”
While the State Department appears to have no immediate plans to revisit this decision, the organization representing many developers of such spacecraft is keeping the agency aware of the issue. “As commercial space companies continue to test and develop their vehicles, it is vital to have an export control regime that will not illegitimately inhibit the potential of this growing industry,” wrote the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) in a June 27 letter, signed by CSF president Michael Lopez-Alegria, to the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls in the State Department. “Steps should be taken to further investigate how to modernize the USML to appropriately move these vehicles to the Commerce Control List (CCL).”
The CSF notes in the letter that the State Department had not formally requested comment on its decision to retain human spaceflight vehicles on the USML, it says it plans to “submit further detailed comments to the State Department along with our submission to the Department of Commerce in response to their request for comments on the continued application of USML controls to commercial space launch vehicles and human spaceflight.”
The letter comes during a time of transition for the CSF. As Space News reported last week, executive director Alex Saltman stepped down last week, a move planned long ago as he is heading to California with his family; he will stay on with the CSF in the role of senior advisor. Lopez-Alegria is also planning to leave the CSF by the end of the year.