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Remarks by Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the National Space Symposium 2018


Good morning, and thank you for the warm welcome.  It is a pleasure to be here with all of you – world leaders in space policy, business, and scientific research.  I am honored to address an audience that is so important to the future achievement and well-being of the United States.

What an exciting time for American advancement in space!

Last month, President Trump announced his National Space Strategy, a reinvigorated approach to ensuring U.S. leadership and success in space.  It is long overdue.

His strategy focuses on four key principles:

  • developing more resilient space architectures;
  • strengthening deterrence and warfighting options;
  • improving foundational capabilities, structures, and processes;
  • and fostering conducive domestic and international environments for space activity.

To achieve these goals, the President’s space strategy prioritizes regulatory reforms to unshackle American industry and ensure that the United States remains the world leader in space services and technology.

Today, as we embark on a new era of space activity and exploration, the Department of Commerce is already working quickly to identify unnecessary regulatory burdens on space activity.  And we are implementing reforms that ensure America remains the flag of choice for business activity in space. 

U.S. leadership in space is essential to our technological innovation, economic growth, jobs, and national security. 

Space commerce is already a $339 billion business and will become a trillion dollar one sooner than anyone realizes.  But we are certainly not the only country up there.  Over 70 countries are entering or have entered the commercial space industry.  Many are represented here today.  And there are over 1,500 operating satellites currently orbiting the world.

At the Department, we are committed to a forward-looking space strategy to ensure continued American leadership.

As many of you know, I serve on the National Space Council.  In February, at the second meeting of the council, we released several recommendations that advance the Administration’s initiative to support space commerce.

First, the Department is repositioning and consolidating all of its space commerce functions under my direct supervision in the Office of the Secretary.  This signals a high priority for the Department. 

Formation of an elevated and amplified Space Administration will enable better coordination of all space-related activities at the Department—remote sensing, export controls, industrial base reviews, data buy policies, GPS coordination, spectrum policy, business and trade promotion, and standards and technology, to name a few.  

We will create a “one stop shop” for space commerce that presents a single Department interface for industry needs.  More efficiency, more attention, and more streamlining.

The Department will also soon announce the appointment of a new Director of the Office of Space Commerce, a position that has been vacant for nearly ten years.  This individual will serve as an ambassador for U.S. space companies and advocate for our business opportunities around the world.

Additionally, Commerce is developing proposals for a mission authorization framework for all commercial space activities other than DOT launch and reentry and spectrum regulated by the FCC.  Such a framework will provide U.S. industry the government stamp of approval needed to embark on novel, non-traditional opportunities in space requiring significant investment.

We have spoken with many innovative space companies that are yearning for the legitimacy and stability that comes with an official government approval.  

For example, there are businesses that do not necessarily need to place cameras on their space objects.  They nevertheless install them in order to obtain a NOAA-issued commercial remote sensing license.  Businesses want that official piece of paper -- proof that affirms the government recognizes and supports their mission.

Still, there are many types of non-traditional space activities not covered by existing license regimes.  This is where the Department of Commerce comes in.  We are working to create a mission authorization process that will enable such creative endeavors to flourish.

Activities including satellite servicing and refueling, in-space manufacturing, space tourism, asteroid mining, and lunar habitation are not far away. 

Government must foster the progress of industry, not stifle it.

The Space Council has also been discussing spectrum management and export control reform.  Two topics of great importance to both government and private industry. 

The Council also recommended that Commerce work with its National Telecommunications and Information Administration to ensure proper stewardship of radio frequency spectrum for commercial space activities.

Indeed, we must prepare for the communications needs of the future as we travel deeper into the realms of space and possibility.

We will coordinate with the FCC, industry, and the National Space Council to develop, advocate, and implement spectrum management policies that make the U.S. more competitive globally. 

The Department’s NTIA also continues to promote the interests of the U.S. satellite industry abroad and at the International Telecommunications Union.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, a former NTIA employee, is the U.S. candidate for ITU Development Sector Director.  While at NTIA, Doreen championed the development of our pro-growth and pro-competition satellite policy.

If elected, she would be both the first American and the first woman on the ITU’s executive team.  Our Administration has put its full support behind Doreen, who is well versed in U.S. space policy objectives.  I hope all of you will support her nomination.

Commerce is also preparing a new policy review of the current export licensing regulations affecting commercial space activity.  If approved by the President, we will provide recommendations for continued export control reform by January 1, 2019.

Finally, the Department’s Regulatory Reform Task Force is reexamining the commercial remote sensing regulations to bring them into the 21st Century.  The regulatory framework is over 25 years old and no longer meets the needs of burgeoning space markets and technologies. 

We apply the same level of interagency scrutiny to a high school cubesat as we do to a billion-dollar asset designed for our intelligence community.  This is silly!

Unfortunately, we saw this first hand two weeks ago.  SpaceX, like many launch companies, was not previously aware that the second stage camera recording and live video feed of its Falcon 9 launch were regulated under the National and Commercial Space Programs Act.  The law requires authorization of camera activity from objects in Earth-orbit to protect U.S. national security interests. 

Ultimately, the company had to suspend public access to the live feed prior to engine shut down, in accordance with the law. 

However, SpaceX was not scanning the features of the Earth nor examining the bounds of its orbit.  Rather, filming was focused on the rocket and its stage separations for purposes of marketing, status checks, and customer updates. 

This is the perfect example of how commercial activity in space is outpacing government regulation. No more! 

I have directed the Department and the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs Office to implement reforms that will meet private sector needs without endangering national security.

Last night I visited with over a dozen CEOs of leading satellite companies.  They shared their frustrations with existing, outdated regulations.  I heard the same comments over and over—the current licensing processes take too long, are unpredictable, and provide no certainty to a frustrated industry. 

In some cases, companies must wait well over a year to receive license determinations.  To these companies I say: we hear you.  Government can and must do better.  And we will!  It shouldn’t take longer to get a license than it does to design a rocket or a satellite.

The Department has already been making improvements.  Commerce recently signed a MOU with the Departments of Defense, State, and Interior and the Director of National Intelligence.  

The MOU sets more definitive timelines for remote sensing license decisions and elevates decision-making to senior government officials if deadlines are not met.

We have already seen success.  Before its implementation, the average time to receive a NOAA license was 210 days.  However, since we implemented the agreement, NOAA estimates the average time line to grant licenses has been reduced over 50%, to an average 91 days.  

This includes over 14 precedent- setting actions for new technologies that could have caused considerable delays under the previous process.  For example, high resolution synthetic aperture radar constellations or on-orbit servicing satellites.

But this is just a start.  Next month, the Department will publish an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking for regulatory reform in commercial remote sensing.  We look forward to hearing feedback from all external stakeholders and interested parties.

In addition to deregulatory actions encouraging new activity in space, there must also be “rules of the road” in space to protect U.S. business assets.  As more companies are launching objects into space, it’s getting pretty crowded up there. 

Between the 1,500 operational satellites, 3,000 other manmade objects in space, and additional space debris, over 20,000 objects larger than 10 cm orbit the planet. 

And still more concerning are the estimated 600,000 objects between 1 and 10 cm that can still cause significant damage or destruction.  Notably, many of these are the result of two collisions or explosions in space.  These facts make evident that space situational awareness and space traffic management must be a priority for U.S. space policy.

As space activity flourishes and companies begin launching constellations of thousands of satellites, many of which are small cubesats, we must establish a plan for space traffic management and coordination.  Best practices and standards are needed to deconflict objects in orbit, encourage debris mitigation and removal, and protect U.S. companies and their assets from possible damage.

Yesterday, the Vice President announced that there will be a civil agency tasked with leading Space Traffic Management and Space Situational Awareness.  That agency will be the Department of Commerce.

The Department’s reinvigorated space focus and vision present the ideal interface for coordination of government data collection and private sector application.  As space traffic increases, much of it will be commercial.

Accordingly, Commerce is uniquely positioned to partner with industry on the development of standards and best practices for STM and SSA.

We are the friend-of-business agency, work hand-in-hand with multiple industry sectors, and understand the value of public-private collaboration.

Commerce’s mindset will be that of a facilitator of safe space commerce, not that of a typical regulator.  We have a new mantra—government must engage not just in oversight, but also insight, and foresight.  That is what industry needs!

Additionally, the Department brings a diverse array of expertise that will be vital to design of STM policy. 

Many objects going into space will operate cameras licensed by the Department.  Also, our NOAA manages the largest operational civil satellite fleet.  18 advanced satellites gathering data to monitor and understand our dynamic planet. 

And the Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, already supports aerospace manufacturing and space exploration by providing measurements, calibration services, and research connected to international standards.  And, to be very clear, we do so with extensive industry collaboration.

In the first 3 quarters of 2017 alone, NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Project resulted in creation or retention of 3,929 aerospace jobs, over $235 million in new and retained sales, over $137 million in new investment, and $104 million in cost savings.  Commerce will tap into NIST’s expertise as we develop a new approach to STM practice.

The Department stands ready to work with other Executive Branch agencies, and the private sector, to develop an STM strategy that creates benchmark standards for the world.  

As Commerce takes on new responsibilities from DOD and other agencies, we will make sure there is a seamless transition.  We recognize the importance of having the right people, partnerships, and processes in place before any big changes are finalized.

Established best practices for STM/SSA are needed to promote safety, incentivize space companies to operate under the U.S. flag, and defend American companies against parties that cause damage or injury to U.S. business interests in space.

We look forward to building on the preliminary research already conducted by the Department of Transportation, NASA, and other government and private industry leaders.  That will be a helpful resource as we quickly address STM and SSA goals.

Additionally, the Department of Commerce will convene an international space regulatory conference in the U.S. no later than January 2019 to discuss STM coordination with private industry. 

Embarking on new plans for STM and SSA will require government to hear from key global space industry leaders.

As hundreds of thousands of objects hurl around the planet at tens of thousands of miles per hour, the prospect of additional devastating collisions is no longer becoming a question of if but of when. 

The U.S. government must act quickly, in conjunction with the private sector, to coordinate STM standards.  If we don’t act now, someone else will.

To maintain U.S. leadership in space, we will develop a new approach to Space Traffic Management that continues to enable our Nation to address current and future operational risks. 

This new approach must set priorities for SSA and STM innovation in science and technology, incorporate national security considerations, encourage tremendous growth of space commerce, and enhance STM architecture.

President Trump is committed to renewing American excellence and leadership in space —continued leadership together, not alone.  Working with our allies and private sector friends, AMERICA IS LEADING IN SPACE AGAIN.

The Administration’s space strategy will encourage more innovation, regulatory reform, and forward-thinking mission authorization.  And we are committed to developing STM policies that enable continued U.S. growth and leadership in space. 

Today, we are all privileged to be part of a very special time in space history.  We meet during a period of great convergence.  Convergence of technology, convergence of capital, and convergence of political will.  We must seize this moment.

You heard it from the Vice President yesterday, and I am reaffirming it today.  Under the leadership of President Trump, America will continue to be a pioneer in space, and a new, commerce-driven vision will take this country to places and accomplishments like never before!

Again, thank you for having me today.  It is an honor to be here among the people that are making history.  I look forward to working with you.