Loverro: U.S. government needs to rethink how it works with private space ventures

The U.S. government should overhaul regulations for space operations in order to attract more investment from the private sector, a panel of experts said Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (L to R) Todd Harrison, CSIS senior fellow; Doug Loverro, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy; Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University; Dawn Harms, vice president, Boeing Satellite Systems International; Marcy Steinke, vice president, Digital Globe; and Richard Leshner, vice president, Planet Labs. Credit: C-SPAN

WASHINGTON — The next big change in space operations could be the paperwork.

The U.S. government needs to reform and rethink its policies about working with private companies, in order to make the opportunities more agile and enticing for businesses, a panel of military and civilian experts said Monday.

“How will we make sure regulation doesn’t disadvantage either our companies or our activities?” said Doug Loverro, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. “I think that’s a key question. I don’t believe anybody knows the answer to that question.”

The panel on military-commercial relations in space was hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a kick-off to the think tank’s new Aerospace Security Project to study air and space issues more closely.

The regulatory framework of the nation’s space business has lagged behind rapid developments in the field, Loverro said. Some areas, like remote sensing, are stuck with outdated rules that require “regulatory reform, regulatory relaxation,” while other activities such as space traffic management “don’t have any regulation to date.”

Richard Leshner, vice president at Planet, a satellite-imaging company, said the commercial space industry is now “a partner leg” in space operations “in a way that’s more than just being the industrial contractor base.”

“Industry’s doing things differently and quickly,” he said. “Government, military, civil, needs to find a way to do rapid demonstrations and get data and information about what capabilities can bring.”

The government needs to “find ways to engage with industry through demonstrations, experiments, data buys, and figuring it out in real time, and then integrating that into the planning now so that your future architectures are integrated as well,” Leshner said.

Planet holds a $20 million contract with the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to supply imagery from the constellation of small satellites the company is deploying.

While there’s been an effort to make regulations less cumbersome to businesses, some of the rules are still being enforced as if the U.S. government is the only operator in orbit, said Marcy Steinke, vice president at Digital Globe, a satellite-imaging company that received roughly half of its first quarter revenue from a long-standing NGA contract.

“Some of the things they’re looking at is the regulatory oversight, which probably — when it was set up 20-plus years ago — made sense when every satellite was a classified government satellite,” she said. “But now that the world is different, we need to look at what do they really need to oversee and what can we let go. I hope that 2017 is the year where the answer comes; there’s a lot that can be let go.”

Steinke said her company has heard from several clients who have described the U.S. licensing and regulatory process as “restrictive.”

“The concern with the slowness of it is that that slow and cumbersome process just pushes customers to international competitors,” she said.

The current constrained fiscal environment might force the government and military to take a second-look at partnerships with commercial space vendors, said Scott Pace, the director of George Washington University’s Space …read more

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