Yesterday at the #NSRC2013 meeting, Andrew Nelson, COO of XCOR, announced both in his talk and at a noon press conference that there was good news and bad news on the ITAR front. The good news is that communications satellites were moved back from the munitions list to the commercial list, for the first time in about a decade and a half. That’s good news for the US comsat industry, which has lost almost all of its business to other countries since the late nineties when they had been declared munitions.
The bad new is that suborbital vehicles, such as XCOR’s Lynx, have been put on the munitions list, which will make it much harder for the companies making them to export them. Imagine the impact on US exports if Boeing commercial transports were moved to the munitions list…
But the good news is that neither of these decisions are final — there is a public review period of this rule making for the next few weeks. It’s a good opportunity for anyone, not just affected industry, to weigh in, and try to get the latter decision reversed. Jon Goff (who I saw at the conference today) explains the stakes (and the danger):
My concern is that while this NPRM does go a long way towards solve some of the key ITAR problems (particularly related to GEO communications satellites), it creates dangerous precedents in other areas–like forcing manned suborbital and orbital vehicles and satellite servicing robotics explicitly onto the munitions list. My worry is that by relieving the pain of the most vocal, and financially well-established part of the space community (GEO commsats) while leaving the rest of us in the lurch, I worry that this will completely kill any impetus for further repair of ITAR for many years. Basically, this may be the community’s only chance to fix some of this damage, because if we don’t, those of us in the satellite servicing and manned spaceflight industries will be battling ITAR without the help and clout of the commercial communications industry on our side like we have this time. And it would be a travesty if something like Lynx or Dragon (or Sticky Boom™) were continued to be treated as dangerously as say a ballistic missile, a supersonic fighter jet, or a main battle tank. While all of these may be “dual-use” in some fashion, that’s what the EAR was meant to deal with–not ITAR, which was meant to deal specifically for systems whose primary use is military.
Make your own voice heard while there’s still time.