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Remarks by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing


Introduced by Dr. Steve Volz, NOAA Assistant Secretary for Satellite and Information Services. 

Thank you, Steve, for that kind introduction. And thank you, everyone, for your commitment to serving on our Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing.

It’s always a pleasure to be with our nation’s top space leaders. Yours is one of the fastest moving segments of space commerce. I know that your time is valuable, so thank you for your civic participation, and your desire to make a difference to millions of people who probably do not even know how important remote sensing is to their livelihoods, and to their lives.

The Commerce Department depends on the thoughtful and objective advice you provide to us as policymakers. Your expertise helps improve the Department’s work at modifying rules, regulations, and policies with the goal of dramatically improving the economic prospects for and impacts of your dynamic industry. I am looking forward to reading the reports that the Committee will discuss today. 

We are keenly interested in the working group discussions on regulatory reform, emerging radar technologies, and data protection plans. These, along with the “listening session” we held at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs in April, will form the basis of discussions with Vice President Pence on how we manage our regulatory authority over commercial remote sensing applications. I assure you that we are committed to pursuing each of your recommendations through to completion. 

Let me also welcome those guests attending today’s meeting who are not on the advisory committee, but who have a stake in the issues being considered. We are interested in your feedback as well. We invite you to share your thoughts as part of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the Commerce Department published on May 14, 2019. Comments are due by July 15th.

Thank you, also, to the members of NOAA’s Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs Office, who worked tirelessly on today’s agenda, and whose real work is ahead of you.

We are pleased to be joined later today by Senator Ted Cruz, and Dr. Scott Pace, the Executive Secretary of the President’s National Space Council. Their attending the Advisory Committee’s meeting is a clear demonstration of the focus being placed by both Congress and the Trump Administration on one of our nation’s most promising and important contributors to space commerce. 

There is a lot of excitement in the remote sensing industry, and much of it is generated by the individuals, organizations, companies represented on this Committee, and in this room. You have reinvigorated what was — not long ago — considered to be a traditional industry, dominated by a heavy-handed government. That’s before a new generation of space scientists, engineers, technicians, financiers, and others energized new thinking about how to observe the earth from space. 

Now it is time for the regulatory environment to match your agility and your ingenuity. We truly believe that today’s four-hundred-billion-dollar global space economy will quickly grow to one-trillion dollars, and perhaps to three-trillion dollars by 2040. To reach such goals, we need continued innovation in traditional areas of space communications, remote sensing, navigation, and weather; as well as new market segments like robotics, satellite servicing, tourism, debris removal, and ride sharing. As such, we must change the way we regulate in order to ensure the competitiveness of the American industry. 

There is too much at stake for both our economic and national security for us to cede our global lead. In response to the space capabilities and business models, Commerce is proposing a significant rewriting of its current regulations — last updated, a long time ago, in 2006 — to achieve the policy goals articulated in Space Policy Directive-2.

We published the commercial remote sensing Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in May after months of interagency discussion and negotiation. Unfortunately, traditional thinking often lingers because of our tremendous historical experience with remote sensing, but we have to be as forward leaning as possible. Commercial remote sensing informs a much wider set of issues than ever before.  

I invite you to provide us with your most candid thoughts, as we propose to issue a final rule that is aimed at maintaining U.S. global leadership in remote sensing. Once the public comment period for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking closes on July 15, we will work to quickly turn around a final rule that is as forward looking as possible. If we cannot agree among agencies, then I will ask that we elevate the discussion to the senior-most levels of government.

We must get this done quickly and in a way that keeps the U.S. industry globally competitive. As part of that input, we want your objective views on the industry’s strengths and weaknesses compared to our international competitors. Provide us with an assessment of the state of U.S. innovation and where it is headed; and how we are doing with the other mandated directives from the National Space Council.  

Several of you, and many of this industry’s leading CEOs, participated in the listening session I hosted at the National Space Symposium. We heard your concerns about the role of the U.S. government as a customer and regulator in this, and in other, commercial space markets. From those discussions, we are looking at ways that the Department of Commerce can address these concerns, in concert with the National Space Council. International cooperation and competition will be an important part of this industry’s future. 

I note that on June 26th and 27th, I 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 the issues you are considering as a committee, and many others impacting your industry. We hope your organizations participate in the Summit. 

Furthermore, as I promised in Colorado Springs, I am inviting the Director of National Intelligence and other senior national security leaders to meetings at Commerce to discuss how we can accelerate decision-making in this area. We may ask for additional industry input into how we can alleviate national security concerns that remain prominent in the debate over the expansion of commercial applications of remote sensing.

Finally, I note that we are disappointed with the recent budget marks by the House Appropriations Committee for creating a new Bureau of Space Commerce here at the Commerce Department. The funding level fails to recognize the increasing importance of space commerce in the overall U.S. economy, and the need for there to be a strong advocate for the commercial space industry in the federal government. We hope for a better result as the budget is finalized.

Commercial entities need to have equal representation in high-level Executive Branch space policy discussions, particularly now that the U.S.  commercial sector is driving so many new developments in global remote sensing markets.  

Your companies are driving innovations across the value chain for remote sensing, from the spacecraft, to sensors, to how data is processed on the ground.  Your industry deserves representation in policy deliberations given the intensity of global competition, and the increasing number of foreign governments subsiding the development of their commercial space sectors.

There is plenty of work to be done to implement the Administration’s space policies through advocacy, deregulation, industry engagement, and improving our understanding of the space economy. Now more than ever, we are looking to you to bridge the gap between regulators and entrepreneurs, and to help us promote the commercial viability of this industry as it continues to evolve.

Thank you, again, for your dedication to serve on this committee. I look forward to receiving your counsel. Thank you.