SPACE Administration would streamline federal oversight of commercial launches

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As part of an ongoing effort to improve the regulatory conditions weathered by companies doing business in space, the Commerce Department has proposed to unify several offices under a new banner: the Space Policy Advancing Commercial Enterprise Administration.

The Trump administration offered hints, but few hard details, on how it aims to streamline federal oversight of space in a statement issued this week. Space Policy Directive 1 had to do with pursuing missions to the moon and Mars, and Directive 2 is more about housekeeping.

Part of that housekeeping directs Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Jr to “transmit a plan to create a ‘one-stop shop’ within the Department of Commerce for administering and regulating commercial space flight activities,” and he seems to have been eager to comply.

“At my department alone, there are six bureaus involved in the space industry. A unified departmental office for business needs will enable better coordination of space-related activities,” Ross wrote. “When companies seek guidance on launching satellites, the Space Administration will be able to address an array of space activities, including remote sensing, economic development, data-purchase policies, GPS, spectrum policy, trade promotion, standards and technology and space-traffic management.”

Some of these changes have been talked about for a while, so this shouldn’t come as a shock to the offices affected. In fact, they may be pleased to hear it. Space regulation is a mire of interdepartmental memos and red tape, and U.S. leadership in the launch and satellite industry has arguably been in spite of it, not because of it.

Unifying a few offices is a start, but it will take more than administrative shuffling to clear out the regulatory cobwebs. This new administration alone will need to be permanently established by Congress, funded, and oversight assigned. And the work of synchronizing, deduplicating, and otherwise improving our space policy across all the various branches of government will be the work of many years, not a season.

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