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Agencies support regulating commercial space industry

The White House wants to divide regulatory authority for new commercial space industry activities between the DOC and DOT, a move that has federal agency support.

The White House has proposed a new regulatory framework for novel commercial space activities -- a burgeoning industry expected to grow exponentially over the next several years.

The White House National Space Council proposed the Authorization and Supervision of Novel Private Sector Space Activities Act to Congress in November. The legislative proposal would divide regulatory authority over private sector space activities not regulated under existing systems between the Dept. of Transportation and the Dept. of Commerce. Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday released the U.S. Novel Space Activities Authorization and Supervision Framework as a companion action to the legislative proposal.

Richard Dalbello, director of the office of space commerce for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, said that the U.S. shares space regulatory responsibilities across multiple agencies, with most rules established before the recent surge in commercial space activity. Dalbello spoke during a hearing held last week by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Space and Science.

As more novel space activities are tested, flown and operated, Dalbello said uncertainty regarding how those activities will be regulated could "negatively affect both investor confidence and space safety." The White House's proposal is supported by the Dept. of Commerce, which he said helped develop the proposal along with the Dept. of Transportation, the Dept. of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other interagency partners.

"The proposal would, without perturbing existing authorities, establish a regulatory framework designed to cover anticipated new technologies while providing the flexibility to respond to those we cannot envision today," he said.

The White House wants to divide regulation of new commercial space activities between the Dept. of Transportation and the Dept. of Commerce.
Regulating new commercial space activities could fall to the Dept. of Transportation and Dept. of Commerce under the White House's new proposal.

Agency leaders support White House proposal

The White House's proposal provides greater clarity regarding who is responsible for authorizing and supervising new and emerging commercial space activities within the industry, such as orbital debris mitigation, space base manufacturing, commercial human space flight and recovery, and use of space resources, said Pam Melroy, deputy administrator of NASA and a witness during the hearing.

"This proposal gives the industry a clear path to provide on-orbit services to NASA and other customers while protecting against interference with the government's own missions and interests, while ensuring that space continues to be a safe space for all operators," she said.

NASA is increasingly relying on the commercial space industry to support its missions -- an industry NASA helped cultivate, Melroy said. As a result, the commercial space industry has "increased competition, lowered costs and accelerated innovation in the market."

However, growth in the commercial space industry raises important questions about who will authorize and supervise new commercial space activities. Melroy said she supports the White House's proposal.

This proposal gives industry a clear path to provide on-orbit services to NASA and other customers while protecting against interference with the government's own missions and interests.
Pam MelroyDeputy administrator, NASA

The Dept. of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration also support the White House proposal, said Kevin Coleman, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation and a witness during the hearing. He said the proposal provides "common-sense oversight" and imposes minimal regulatory burdens on the U.S. private sector in space.

The White House's proposal, while giving the Transportation and Commerce departments regulatory authority over commercial space activities, would require working with the Dept. of Defense concerning matters of national security. It also transfers certain existing oversight functions regarding civil space situational awareness functions from the Dept. of Defense to the Dept. of Commerce, which the DOD supports, said John Hill, the DOD's deputy assistant secretary of defense for space and missile defense and a witness during the hearing. Space situational awareness characterizes objects in space and keeps track of their location in orbit.

"The transition of these functions to a civil agency will enable the DOD to focus our work on the inherently military aspects of the space situational awareness and space domain awareness missions," he said.

Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget Editorial, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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