The National Space Society vision is people living and working in space

[part 1 of 2]
"NSS Capital Capsule" updated June 12, 1997

This Capsule contains highlights of the three hearings held by the House Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics to collect testimony on H.R. 1702 -- the Commercial Space Act of 1997. Mark-up on this bill took place earlier today. An overview of the Mark-up follows in a second Capital Capsule.

Hearing #1 (5/21/97)

The first hearing examined developments in the remote sensing industry, and proposed amendments to the Land Remote Sensing Act of 1992 that are intended to make the "licensing process for commercial systems more responsive and timely."

Highlights of the testimony include:

Keith Calhoun-Senghor, from the Department of Commerce, offered two messages: 1) The Commerce Department should track and analyze data on commercial space enterprises in "much the same way as commodities futures or crop reports" so businesses can "intelligently anticipate the future," and: 2) "the challenge before us is defining how the Administration and Congress can best work together to help investors and U.S. companies exploit the opportunity before us through policy stability, facilitating international standards, tracking statistics and generally promoting space-based industries."

Jeff Harris, President of Space Imaging Incorporated, provided an overview of the growing market for remote sensing data: "Since the early 1960s, U.S. industry has developed and mastered reconnaissance technologies and set the pace for the world." According to Harries, many countries, in addition to America, are now involved in remote sensing technology for commercial applications, including France, Canada, Israel, China, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Russia and India.

Dr. Susan Moran, from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, listed the many uses of remote sensing data to gather soil and crop information to enhance food production.

Dr. John Townshend, a professor at the University of Maryland, discussed the unique requirements for remote sensing data to meet the needs of the science community.

Dr. Molly Macauley, a Senior Fellow and economist at Resources for the Future, said the commercial remote sensing industry is "relatively unfettered by government regulation." According to Macauley, government incentives historically have had a "mixed if not poor track record in fostering commercialization in many technologies." She said the practice of providing subsidized data from government remote sensing systems to science researchers is flawed and discourages private development. Consequently, she said the role of government should be confined to basic R&D.

Hearing #2 (5/22/97)

The second hearing of the subcommittee examined issues pertaining to the commercial space launch industry and proposed amendments to the Commercial Space Launch Act. To reduce the cost of space travel, Rohrabacher said he supports having multiple RLV companies that try to out-compete each other. He criticized the Air Force for investing billions to upgrade the EELV launcher, which he called "old technology."

Congressman Dave Weldon said we need to "completely reexamine the way our ranges are offered to commercial launch customers, as well as the way commercial customers use the range."

Four witnesses testified before the committee, including:

Ed Frankle, General Council of NASA, strongly criticized proposed legislation that would regulate in-space transportation. Such regulation, he said, would burden U.S. satellite operators and is not needed. "I believe the concept of licensing in-space transportation is a solution in search of a problem," Frankle said. "Let us wait until we have a problem which we and all those affected understand and can attack specifically before we design a program of government intervention to fix it."

Patti Grace Smith, Acting Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the FAA, agreed with Frankle's statement. However, she did announce support for proposed legislation to give the FAA authority to license reusable space vehicles that reentry the atmosphere and land on Earth.

Edward Brady, former Vice President for AIAA, discussed activities by industry to form a consensus on voluntary standards for commercial launch safety and other issues.

Michael Kelly, President and CEO of Kelly Space & Technology Incorporated, is developing a commercial reusable launch vehicle. He raised concerns about excessive licensing requirements for testing new vehicles. Obtaining a license for every test flight, he said, would be onerous, and instead encouraged the FAA to make available a single license to cover multiple flight tests. Kelly said he opposes having the government act as a "anchor tenant" to support the development and operation of a commercial launch vehicle.

Hearing #3 (6/11/97)

On Wednesday, June 11, the House Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics held the third and final hearing. The purpose of the hearing was to gather the views of government agencies that will be responsible for implementing provisions of the bill.

Conspicuously absent was a representative from the State Department. The Subcommittee requested the agency's participation, but it refused to send anyone to the hearing. Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) publicly berated the State Department for its failure to attend.

According to Rohrabacher, during the last Congress, the reason the Commercial Space Act did not pass the Senate was because of an objection raised by a State Department lawyer concerning provisions on remote sensing. Rohrabacher said it "wasn't an official, on-the-record communication from the State Department."

The hearing on Wednesday was an opportunity for the State Department to express any concerns about the bill. Since it declined to send a witness or written statement or even a letter, Rohrabacher said he will "assume they have no objections." If down the road there is a concern voiced by the State Department, "we can write that off as an isolated case of a freelancing bureaucrat trying to get more turf," the California Congressman said.

Witness testimony highlights are as follows:

Dr. James Baker, Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, at the Department of Commerce, said the global market for space imagery is nearly $400 million and is expected to expand to $2 billion by 2000. Since passage of the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992, NOAA has issued 11 licenses to operate "private remote-sensing space systems with capabilities ranging from one meter to one kilometer resolution." Baker said NOAA is currently "developing regulations which, among other things, would strive to achieve a better balance between the burdens of a licensed operator and national security and foreign policy requirements."

Ms. Cheryl Roby, from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence), expressed concern about the increasing quality of remote sensing data and its real-time distribution with regard to national security matters. During Desert Storm, the U.S. requested France temporarily shut down its Spot satellite (which it agreed to do) to prevent any commercial remote-sensing information from compromising the battlefield positions of the Allies. The U.S. is currently in discussions with foreign governments to establish agreements to temporarily curtail commercial remote sensing activities when there are national security reasons to do so. To date, no agreements have been signed with another country.

Mr. Michael Swiek, Executive Director of the U.S. GPS Industry Council, listed a series of policy guidelines to support the operation and management of GPS technology and business developments, including: 1) provide the GPS Standard Positioning Service (SPS) for peaceful, civil and commercial and scientific use on a continuous, worldwide basis; 2) make the service available free to direct user fees; 3) seek the acceptance of the U.S. GPS as a standard for international use. According to Swiek, the bill language in the Commercial Space Act is consistent with "Presidential policy as well as with the numerous studies undertaken to review GPS issues."

(See Part 2 for an Overview of This Morning's Mark-up on H.R. 1702)

Reported by Bill Livingstone

About the "NSS Capital Capsule"
The Capsule is a timely report of highlights from Capitol Hill hearings and other events involving space issues. Prepared by NSS staff or volunteers who attend in person, the Capsule provides NSS members and activists an "insider's" look into the thoughts of our national elected officials on space issues.

The National Space Society is an independent space advocacy group headquartered in Washington, DC. Its 25,000 members and 95 chapters support the creation of a spacefaring civilization. For more information on the NSS and our future in space, visit

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