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Today is SubOrbital Day, a lobbying event for the SubOrbital Institute. I've cut 'n' pasted the talking points for the day below the fold. I'll post more later, possibly tomorrow if the evening wrapup is especially festive. We'll be walking around Capitol Hill briefing Senate staffers on the issues below, trying to encourage them to take action that will make it easier for you and me to get into space.
Who are we?
The Suborbital Institute (SOI) is a trade association promoting the suborbital reusable launch vehicle (RLV) industry. Institute members include RLV developers TGV Rockets, XCOR Aerospace, Armadillo Aerospace, X-Rocket LLC, and Vela Technology.
SOI is urging legislative action to promote the industry. Specifically, we’re pushing:
• Senate passage of H.R. 3752
H.R. 3752 is the first commercial space legislation to pass the House since the Commercial Space Act of 1998, which specifically authorized reentry vehicles and reusable launch vehicles. H.R. 3752 specifically authorizes space tourism, clarifies jurisdiction within FAA for suborbital vehicles, establishes an experimental permit regime for RLV flight testing, requires that training and medical standards be set for crew members and space tourists, authorizes FAA/AST’s budget for three years, continues the present indemnification regime for three years, and calls for a study of how to phase out indemnification. We are pleased the Congress has demonstrated a clear commitment to suborbital flight with this bill, and continues the 20-year effort the Federal government has made in supporting the commercial space industry.
The ITAR Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is out of control. Intended to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, it has instead driven foreign customers of U.S. launch providers to the competition, because the U.S. satellite manufacturers can’t talk to their customers about anything technical. This has cost the U.S. satellite industry billions of dollars since 1998, when administration of MTCR was moved from DOD to State. It is also having a negative impact on the suborbital industry: we are unable to hire some very talented rocket engineers because they are not U.S. citizens.
Office of Space Commerce
Within the Department of Commerce, the Office of Space Commerce (OSC) has been doing excellent work on a shoestring for years. They have produced a number of excellent reports about the U.S. launch industry, including a 2002 report on the suborbital industry which was very helpful in reducing the “giggle factor” associated with space tourism and other suborbital markets. OSC has no budget, no permanent director, a staff of one (1) out of five (5) authorized, and they are perennially ignored within Commerce. We think they’ve been doing a great job, and we want them to keep doing it, but they need help. We’d like to see their budget restored, a permanent director hired, and the Office staffed to its authorized level. They’ve done great with two and three people; they could really shine with five.
H.R. 3752, the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, does many things to enhance the U.S. RLV industry. H.R. 3752:
• Specifically delegates space launch licensing authority to AST;
The biggest obstacle to licensing a launch or series of launches is the environmental review. Every licensed launch is a “major Federal action,” and according to the National Environmental Policy Act, needs an environmental assessment. This takes months at best, and can take decades. But every rocket launched since 1972 has flown under a Finding Of No Significant Impact (FONSI), including Titan IVs carrying hundreds of thousands of pounds of toxic propellants. H.R. 3752 encourages the Secretary to use his waiver authority under 49 USC 70105(c)(2)(C). AST could use this to issue FONSIs, on a case by case basis, for launches of suborbital RLVs carrying thousands of pounds of non-toxic propellants. This would allow AST to issue permits in 90 days with no adverse consequences to the environment.
Issuing permits in a timely manner would, in turn, allow expeditious flight testing of new vehicle designs, “turning the crank” for a startup community poised to become a multi-billion dollar industry.
The ITAR Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is intended to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. While it is difficult to assess how well an export control regime suppresses exports – you can’t track crimes people don’t commit – it is not at all difficult to assess the secondary effects ITAR is having on the U.S. suborbital industry.
As developers of rocket technology, SOI member companies cannot hire engineers who are not U.S. citizens. This deprives the industry of some of the most talented rocket engineers in the world. XCOR, in particular, was unable to hire a foreign rocket engineer with 20 years experience developing liquid fuel rocket engines.
Foreign aerospace engineering students come to the United States to get the best technical education available anywhere. When they have learned all that the U.S. can teach them, they try to get jobs here in the U.S. Because they are not U.S. citizens, U.S. industry cannot hire them. So they go home to Teheran and Beijing and Bangalore and get aerospace jobs there. Most of the aerospace jobs there are jobs building missiles. Thus, a regime designed to prevent proliferation of missile technology is having the opposite effect, promoting missile proliferation, to the detriment of U.S. national security.
SOI member companies also cannot advertise our wares. Any information that might be useful to a potential customer trying to make a purchasing decision is technical in nature. ITAR forbids us from disclosing technical information in any way that might lead to its leaving the United States, or its being read by a foreign national. Being unable to advertise our products, even for domestic sale, is hurting the industry to a degree that, because we have never been permitted to advertise, we cannot determine. However, in a media-driven world, the consequences of being unable to advertise the merits of our products must be considerable.
ITAR export restrictions have other unintended effects, similar to the de facto prohibition on advertising. We cannot discuss the technical details of our products with foreign nationals, including foreign nationals who know more about our field than we do. We cannot discuss the technical details of our products in any forum where foreign nationals might be present. We can’t sell engines to prospective customers in Canada. When we sell products to U.S. customers, we can only do so if they are able to ensure that our products will not be open to inspection by foreign nationals.
XCOR, specifically, had a German intern for a year. The file server had to be segregated so that the intern could not access technical information. The intern had to sent out of the office when the engineering staff needed to discuss rocket engine design or construction. Drawings that the engineering staff needed to look at on a regular basis had to be posted on the back of the Chief Engineer’s door, so that the intern did not see them by accident. The intern was, and all foreign nationals are, barred from the Chief Engineer’s office. Photographs of rocket engine parts had to be kept in a secure location so that the intern could not look at them. When the engineering staff inspected parts after testing, the inspection had to be in the Chief Engineer’s office, with the door closed. All this distrustful action had a very negative impact on XCOR’s corporate culture. To add insult to injury, after spending a good fraction of million dollars training this intern, XCOR was unable to hire him, because he is not a U.S. citizen.
Probably the most nonsensical unintended effect of the current ITAR regulations is that we are unable even to talk about Sutton. Rocket Propulsion Elements, by George P. Sutton, is the introductory text in the field. It is available for purchase all over the world. Yet Sutton contains material that is sufficiently technical that the State Department considers it subject to export control. That means that we cannot talk about introductory rocket engineering with foreign nationals – which, not to put too fine a point on it, makes us look foolish, hidebound, and afraid to speak the truth. Afraid to speak the truth, in America.
Within Commerce’s Technology Administration (TA), the Office of Space Commerce (OSC) has been doing excellent work on a shoestring for years. They have produced a number of excellent reports about the U.S. launch industry, including a 2002 report on the suborbital industry which was very helpful in reducing the “giggle factor” associated with space tourism and other suborbital markets. OSC has no permanent director, a staff of one (1), out of five (5) authorized, and they are perennially ignored within TA and within Commerce. We think they’ve been doing a great job, and we want them to keep doing it, but they need help. Last year, their budget was misdirected, and their acting director retired (he had stayed on per Congressional intent from 2002 to 2003). They are hurting. We’d like to see their budget restored, a permanent director hired, and the Office staffed to its authorized level. They’ve done great with two and three people; they could really shine with five.
In 2003, DOC was considered closing OSC, and Congress passed legislation directing DOC to keep OSC open. However, there were mixed signals, and while the authorization bill directed DOC to keep OSC under TA, the appropriations bill sent all of OSC’s budget to NOAA. This effectively killed OSC. We would like to see OSC revived to continue the excellent work they were doing before their recent troubles began.
Our essential desire is to restore OSC’s budget to OSC. We also want the Senate to encourage the Secretary to find a way to make the Office effective again. The best way to do that is not to micromanage the Department of Commerce from Capitol Hill, but rather to give the Secretary the freedom he needs to find the best place to put OSC. The best place for OSC may be in the International Trade Administration (ITA); it may be directly under the Secretariat, where it was created in 1988; it may be under the Technology Administration, where it is now. We don’t know where OSC would be most effective; we do know that they were effective in the past, and we would like them to be effective again.
OSC is currently under TA by statute, the Cyber Security Research and Development Act (Public Law 107-305), which amended the Technology Administration Act of 1998 to read (amendment in italics), “There is established within the Technology Administration of the Department of Commerce an Office of Space Commercialization.”
So we are asking for three things from Congress: first, redirect OSC’s budget back to OSC; second, Require the Secretary to appoint a Director for OSC; third, encourage the Secretary to take the necessary steps to make OSC effective again.Posted by Andrew Case at May 17, 2004 03:57 AM
More notice would be preferred for this kind of event.
I live right outside the DC Beltway. If I had known about this event before this morning, I could have come down and helped.
C'est la vie...Posted by Chuck Divine at May 17, 2004 08:17 AM
wrt to effects of ITAR .. in famous words of Dr. Swanson ( Office Space ) ... Wow, that's messed up.Posted by at May 17, 2004 08:21 AM
Chuck - sorry about not getting news out earlier. This year was a bit of a rush due to the limited time available from the principals. The good news is that their time was limited due to their their making real progress on hardware or fundraising.
I'll try to make sure there's an announcement in lots of time before the next event.Posted by Andrew Case at May 17, 2004 09:08 PM
Regardless, thanks for posting that information. It was very interesting. Good old ITAR. Because decent encryption was considered a "munition," for years American companies couldn't export software with good encryption. The U.S. government wanted software companies to use encryption with a backdoor known only to them. Naturally, they would be Very Careful to only use it When Appropriate. Strangely enough, few trusted them . . . the upshot was that U.S. software had weak encryption for years when strong encryption sofware was freely available on the web. Among other things, this nonsense held up electronic banking for years.Posted by VR at May 18, 2004 05:49 PM
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