Satellite industry officials are optimistic about the prospects for reversing a ban put in place in the late 1990s on the export of commercial satellites and dual-use technologies to prevent the transfer of technology to China.
“There is great hope,” says Michael Gold of Bigelow Aerospace, who leads an export control working group advising theon commercial space matters. “We have never been closer to getting this done.” The group met Oct. 9.
Since commercial satellites were placed under International Trafficking in Arms Regulations, the U.S. industry has watched its market erode. It has been fighting for years to reverse the ban on satellite exports.
The House version of the defense authorization bill contains a bipartisan provision that would allow the president to remove commercial satellites from the heavily regulated U.S. Munitions List to the Commerce Control List, allowing those to be more freely traded.
The version of the bill passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee does not contain the language. Sen. Mike Bennet (D-Colo.) is proposing a similar amendment to the Senate bill.
But it all comes down to whether the Senate approves the defense authorization bill, as it has annually for more than 50 years.
Despite the bill’s history of legislative success there is a question about whether Congress can move the defense policy bill, given the other items that need to be addressed in a short post-election, lame-duck session.
If the Senate does consider the bill, it may be a pre-conferenced version that includes a version of the satellite language, at least one that will restore the president’s discretion over where commercial satellites reside, according to a Democratic congressional aide. And that is not likely to face major opposition this year in the Senate.
“I don’t think there’s any way as a Senate minority staffer I would say no to a provision I agree with,” Republican Senate aide Tom Moore told the export control working group.
The difficulty with this bill — and other administration efforts to overhaul export controls — remains continued disagreement with Congress over how the administration will be required to notify lawmakers under a notification procedure known internally as “38F.”