Political Developments and Military
A shift in U.S. government space policy and the eventual retirement of the space shuttle dominated the government developments. U.S. President Barack Obama’s new National Space Policy (NSP) contains measures to double the available amount of spectrum for wireless communications over the next 10 years and establish grounds to seek international partnerships for civil space and space situational awareness programs. The overall goal of the NSP, which supersedes space policy directives issued in 2006, is to provide guidance on the use of space for U.S. security, economic, civil and environmental concerns. The new policy’s focus on the extension of broadband access via wireless networks to rural and underserved areas may positively impact the future of U.S. mobile satellite service providers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled $1.2 billion in broadband access and adoption grants in the second funding round of the $7.2 broadband stimulus package passed in 2009, and while satellite players received a small percentage of the total, Hughes Network Systems, ViaSat, EchoStar and Spacenet all will work on projects funded by the program.
For civil space concerns, the NSP contains language that commits the United States to more partnerships with other governments and also engages NASA to expand programs such as human and robotic exploration of the solar system and affordable human exploration beyond the Earth as well as to seek partnerships with the private sector to enable commercial spaceflight capabilities for the transport of crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station and begin human missions to new destinations by 2025. The Obama administration previously voiced support for commercial launch companies such as COTS contract winners SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to take on a share of NASA’s future launch developments.
While there are concerns that overall U.S. military spending may be curtailed in the future, the need for communications support from commercial operators looks to keep that section of the budget secure, and in February, DISA and the GSA issued solicitations for the $5 billion, 10-year Future Commercial Satellite Communications Services Acquisition (FCSA) award that will support the military’s acquisition of commercial bandwidth and services. Prominent contracts awarded during the year included: an Air Force contract for Raytheon for first two development blocks of the GPS advanced control segment, which will include anti-jam capabilities and improved security, accuracy and reliability; an Army award to ViaSat to supply the next generation of Blue Force Tracking equipment; and separate awards from the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to DigitalGlobe and GeoEye to develop and launch next-generation imagery satellites under the EnhancedView program.
The one area of U.S. space policy that remains relatively stagnant – much to the dismay of the aerospace industry – is the ongoing debate over strict technology export laws. However, the year saw an increased focus on the discussion of these policies and some acknowledgement of their impact on U.S. space industry competitiveness. The U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a report in July urging U.S. policymakers to extend assured access to space privileges enjoyed by government-owned spacecraft, to commercial satellites. The report, “National Security and the Commercial Space Sector,” asserts that an overhaul of the U.S. Air Force’s relationship with its principal launch-services provider, United Launch Alliance (ULA), is an important part of its overall strategy and would help drive more business to U.S. commercial space launchers by providing commercial operators with more options.
The Obama administration also completed a Category 7 U.S. Munitions List review of tanks and military vehicles in August, which determined that about 74 percent of the 12,000 military items licensed last year could have been processed under the United States’ less restrictive Commerce Control List. The review generated a positive response from the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), which has worked to ease U.S. export controls and expand business opportunities for space-related U.S. exporters. AIA CEO Marion Blakey says the restructured list shows “great promise” in assigning appropriate protection to technology exports across various levels of risk and is a significant step in solving International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and other export control-related problems faced by the industry. “The clarification and eventual consolidation of the Munitions and Commerce Control lists will have a dramatic impact on small- and medium-sized companies. These companies rarely have the resources to ensure compliance with the current export control regime. Simplifying the system offers them the opportunity to be more competitive in the international marketplace.”
Europe also saw its civil space and government landscape change. In March, the U.K. space agency was launched as the U.K. government made declarations of the importance of space. The creation of an International Space Innovation Centre in the United Kingdom also was unveiled. In September, the role of satellites in bringing broadband all across Europe was bought into sharp focus. The European Commission (EC) outlined moves to bring fast and ultra-fast broadband throughout Europe, however, satellite solutions barely were mentioned as options in the proposals outlined in September. Aarti Holla-Maini, secretary general, European Satellite Operators Association (ESOA), said, “The Commission’s 2013 objective of ‘Broadband for All’ can only be met if satellite plays an integral role: satellite operators are already connecting thousands of users per month to broadband Internet. Satellite operators are also capable of providing 30 Mbps services if market demand supports it. It is unfortunate that the Broadband Communication did not recognize that only through satellite coverage, can these services be extended to all citizens in Europe, a strength which is by contrast, well-recognized in the RSPP (Radio Spectrum Policy Programme) Communication.”