Was this page helpful?

Remarks by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at 35th National Space Symposium


Good morning, and thank you, Tom, for that kind introduction. It is an honor to share the stage with so many luminaries of the U.S. space industry, and especially with Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan. Thank you for those remarks. 

Our being here is a clear demonstration of the focus the Trump Administration places on one of our nation’s most prominent and important industries. The individuals, organizations, companies — and the incredible range of activities represented at this meeting — underpin the innovation and excitement that your industry contributes to our country’s economic and national security.

Many of you watched the fifth National Space Council meeting in Huntsville, Alabama, two weeks ago, hosted by Vice President Pence. The Council re-affirmed the Trump Administration’s absolute commitment to return to the Moon with a permanent presence by 2024. We will do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. In plain English, this means quickly going back to Congress with a plan that will include public-private partnerships and lunar landers. Administrator Bridenstine will have more to say about this, but I just wanted to whet your appetite. 

As more countries land on the Moon, we risk a “Wild West” situation without clarification of ownership rights. We need to ensure that those who extract crater ice at 40 degrees above absolute zero, and other resources, will keep the full economic results of their development. Having U.S. be the first permanent presence on the Moon will help create such conditions.

At Commerce, we believe that today’s four hundred billion dollar global space economy will quickly grow to one-trillion dollars, and perhaps to three trillion by 2040. To reach such goals, we need continued innovation in traditional areas of space communications, remote sensing, navigation, and weather. We also anticipate new market segments like robotics, additive manufacturing, satellite servicing, space tourism, debris removal, and resource mining. Financing and insurance are also necessary, as are cybersecurity practices second to none. Money is also key.

We have hosted summits with space companies and financial institutions to discuss ways to finance opportunities and insure against risks associated with new space products and services.
On June 26th and 27th, we will co-host a Space Enterprise Summit in Washington, D.C., with the Department of State. This summit will include international partners and commercial space companies. It will address issues such as international governance, regulations, and the need to enhance global partnerships. We’re bullish on making and keeping America the “flag of choice” for innovative space companies. 

But other countries are subsidizing launches and Europe manufactures one-third of the world’s satellites. There is lots of competition. As a partial response, our U.S. government mission at the Paris Air Show will showcase the U.S. commercial space sector. Three Apollo astronauts will join the U.S. Pavilion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Moon landing.

It is important that the U.S. lead in cooperation with our allies. By encouraging joint projects, we can build the common standards and practices that are essential. One example is Astroscale, an exciting six-year-old Japanese company that is developing a comprehensive solution for cleaning up orbital debris. After a year of discussions with Commerce’s SelectUSA office, I am delighted to announce that the company has established Astroscale U.S. right here in Colorado. Others will soon follow!

Another requirement for the industry’s success is enhancing space situational awareness and space traffic management. The recent launch of the first satellites of the massive OneWeb constellation, and the Indian A-SAT test, highlight the pressing need for an improved system of tracking space debris. Some of the A-Sat debris even reached an apogee above the international space station. We are organizing technical teams to manage the location and threats of existing space particles, and how to avoid creating new ones.

Finally, we all must promote the importance of space to everyone here in the United States. Most Americans don’t realize how much of their daily lives depend on the space industry. Their ability to order an Uber, to view Google Maps, or to call someone ten thousand miles away with exceptional clarity, depends on space. Without public awareness, we won’t have the political support the industry needs.

At the Commerce Department, our goal is to ensure that the United States captures the lion’s share of burgeoning space markets. Under Space Policy Directive 2, we are reforming regulations on spectrum management, export controls, and remote sensing. This is being done in concert with the entire space community.

Last week, at the National Space Council meeting, I delivered our SPD-2 report called, “Driving Space Commerce Through Effective Spectrum Policy.” Its 13 recommendations provide spectrum for space activities while harmonizing international space-spectrum policies. It seeks new technologies to improve spectral efficiency, and to protect space assets from harmful radio-frequency interference.

We have also heard your concerns about export controls. Last month, my Department and the Department of State each published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to support a new round of export control reviews covering both spacecraft and launch vehicles. We seek your comments by April 22nd. In addition, an export control industry day is scheduled at the Commerce Department in Washington, D.C., for April 17th. 

A year ago, I announced that we had reduced the processing time for a remote sensing application to an average of 90 days. We now have it down to 61 days – and hopefully can shorten it even further. We are also creating the infrastructure in government to represent the needs of the commercial space sector.

Just last week, the U.S. Senate revisited the Space Frontier Act to create a new Space Bureau at the Department of Commerce. It would provide the nation with a permanent advocate for your industry. It would reflect the Administration’s commitment to “harnessing the power of the U.S. commercial space industry.” The Bureau will tap into every corner of the Commerce Department involved in space, from NOAA, to the Bureau of Industry and Security, to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the International Trade Administration. Finally, a new Space Bureau’s leader would rank equal to other U.S. government executives in interagency discussions about the commercial space industry.

Let me turn for a moment Space Policy Directive – 3. It gives the Commerce Department the lead government role in space situational awareness — SSA — and space traffic management — STM.  I testified with General Hyten of the U.S. Strategic Command, and NASA Administrator Bridenstine back last June on this topic. We are further discussing our efforts while we are here at the Symposium.

DOD needs a partner to support the burgeoning commercial industry with accurate data that assures the safety of commercial space operations. The Department of Commerce’s role in this task is essential. First, Commerce’s NOAA and NIST bring tremendous technical talent to bear on the challenges of SSA and STM. NIST brings a rigorous standards approach to the 50-plus international organizations involved in space safety.

Second, the Commerce Department routinely interacts with industry, including the emerging SSA and STM companies, and the launch and cubesat constellation firms, that are quickly driving major new demands for SSA and STM information. Engaging essential technologies like artificial intelligence and cloud computing will be essential to ensuring the safety of commercial space assets. Yesterday we issued a broad Request for Information seeking input into best industry practices and standards for improving space safety and traffic management.

Our view of space traffic management is not one of heavy-handed direction: We are not going to tell you where to move your satellites. But we need to create a high-fidelity information system that allows operators to manage their space assets in collaboration with others. We will develop with government and industry partners an open architecture data repository based upon DOD’s “authoritative catalog.” This will provide conjunction data to commercial operators while creating a platform with new capabilities to drive new innovative services.

So, let me close with a quote given at this very symposium almost 22 years ago by former U.S. Space Commander Howell Estes III. He said: “It is the continued commercial development of space that will provide the strength critical for our great country in the decades ahead.” That vision is more important today than ever before.

Let us all work together to assure that this industry drives the future of humanity.

Thank you.