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Simplify 'Alphabet Soup'

Novel Space Activities Need a Regulatory Home, National Space Council Told

As the pace of novel space missions looks to rapidly take off in coming years, the U.S. commercial space economy is hurting from lack of one regulatory agency designated to authorize and oversee those missions, several speakers told the National Space Council Monday. NSpC Commercial Space Policy Director Diane Howard said Monday's listening session and another scheduled for Nov. 21 (see 2210130033) will provide fodder as the council comes up with a national space priorities framework.

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Novel activities need regulatory certitude, and the Commerce Department's Office of Space Commerce should have the responsibility for their oversight, handling duties currently not the bailiwick of the FCC or FAA, said Isaiah Wonnenberg, Commercial Spaceflight Federation regulatory affairs director. He said the novel activity authorization process itself should be based on a presumption an application is approved unless there are national security concerns.

The business case for low earth operations is still a work in progress, said Mary Lynne Dittmar, Axiom Space chief government and external relations officer. She said there should be a whole-of-government approach to commercial space policymaking, involving expertise from agencies ranging from NASA and Commerce to State, to help foster that emerging LEO economy. She called for "clear lines of responsibility" in space mission oversight. New and novel activities like orbital debris removal don't have a regulatory home now under federal law, she said, advocating for a restraint on agencies intruding their regulatory authority "where it in fact does not exist."

Novel space capabilities are increasingly of value to numerous earth-bound industries like banking or mining, and any governance framework for new innovations will have to be aware of the needs of those sectors, said Kevin O'Connell, space consultant and former Office of Space Commerce director. He said the U.S. government needs to do better in anticipating the trends and outcomes of the space economy, and traditional thinking about national security can't be allowed to impede commercial capabilities.

U.S. policy embraces orbital debris removal, but clarity is lacking on how such missions would be authorized and supervised, said Luc Riesbeck, Astroscale space policy research analyst. Part of the problem is that different agencies including the FCC and FAA have oversight over different aspects of such missions, but no agency has a statutory authority to approve remediation, Riesbeck said.

The "alphabet soup" of agencies with a hand in the commercial space station needs streamlining, said Tushar Savalia, CEO of the California injection molding company Performance Engineered Products, an aerospace industry supplier. He said consolidating that regulatory oversight would lead to efficiency that would promote more innovation and new entrants in the commercial space galaxy.

Several speakers laid out the kinds of novel operations coming down the pike. John Graves, Intuitive Machines mission operations lead, said its unmanned lunar lander missions should start in 2023, with one of the goals being establishing a commercial lunar relay satellite network to transmit data between the moon and earth. Atomos Space Chief Operating Officer William Kowalski said the orbital transfer vehicle startup plans to demonstrate its rendezvous and release capabilities in early 2024 and start commercial space logistics services, moving satellites around in LEO, later that year. Beyond Earth Institute President Steven Wolfe suggested an executive order creating a working group to tackle policies, incentives and regulations needed to expedite humankind's migration into space.