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National Space Council on Competitiveness and Spectrum in the New Space Era

By Adrienne Harebottle | May 2, 2018

There is no doubt that the United States is a preeminent space-faring nation of the world. There is no country more capable in space nor is there a country more reliant on space for its security, its economy, its place in the world. These were the words of Scott Pace, executive secretary of the U.S. National Space Council, in his keynote address on Monday at Hudson Institute. The conservative think tank is leading off a series of symposia on regulatory reform of the commercial use of outer space. Under the theme “Space 2.0: U.S. Competitiveness and Policy in the New Space Era,” Monday saw industry experts and policy practitioners convene to discuss how the United States can best leverage its position.

Scott Pace, executive secretary, National Space Council speaking at the "Space 2.0: U.S. Competitiveness and Policy in the New Space Era" at the Hudson Institute.

Scott Pace, executive secretary, National Space Council speaking at the “Space 2.0: U.S. Competitiveness and Policy in the New Space Era” at the Hudson Institute.

In his opening speech, Pace conveyed the direction of the Trump administration’s agenda, following which a panel of senior government officials from Congress and the government’s executive branch took place after a lunch. The panel’s speakers comprised of Robert McDowell, former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and partner at Cooley, Earl Comstock, director of office policy and strategic planning at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Michael Mineiro, staff director and senior counsel of the House Science Committee’s Space Subcommittee at the U.S. House of Representatives. The panel was moderated by Pierre de Vries, co-director of the spectrum policy initiative at Silicon Flatirons Center.

In order for the United States to not just maintain its position as a leader in space, as it established in the early days of spaceflight, but to rather expand its preeminence, it is vital that government priorities, policies and regulations are supportive, up-to-date and relevant to a changing market, noted Pace. Achieving this requires a “whole government approach.”

“As the exploration and utilization of space becomes more complex, it is more important than ever to have a whole government approach that recognizes how space issues cut across a wide range of national interests. International cooperation, space commerce, and national security space are all interconnected and part of larger elements of national interest,” said Pace.

While the administration is focusing on the most urgent of the regulatory reforms, such as streamlining the U.S. commercial space launch and re-entry regulations, and the updating of commercial remote sensing regulations, it understands the need for novel regulations to enable new space development. This includes satellite servicing, private space facilities and space mining operations, said Pace, adding that mobile broadband and 5G also have a place in discussions on space and competition.

Protected Satellite Spectrum and 5G

In this regard, improved coordination is needed of radiofrequency spectrum to protect satellite communications from terrestrial signal interference, something that the National Space Council is reviewing. This, along with preserving spectrum for satellite communications — rather than using it for terrestrial 5G services — will safeguard the U.S. ventures that are planning satellite systems, and nurture the American innovative spirit of both new generation entrepreneurs and established industry players.

“The United States has a strong and entrepreneurial satellite communications industry, available to engage in global competition. To ensure we retain the strategic advantages afforded by space services, the United States needs to continue to open and promote competitive markets and protect spectrum allocation for space services to compete,” said Pace.

Unregulated terrestrial wireless use (such as 5G broadband) in one country could certainly preclude the use of satellite services in neighboring countries because radio waves don’t stop at borders, said Pace. “That would harm the global economy, and a global approach is necessary to protect U.S. space commerce,” he said, pointing to the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) in 2019, which is expected to see proposals to allow terrestrial use of satellite spectrum.

“There’s an urgent need to provide reasonable protections for satellite gateway Earth stations in certain frequency bands, as well as protection for satellite end user terminals in core satellite bands,” he said. “It’s for these reasons that the National Space Council is examining how the Department of State, Commerce and the FCC can better coordinate to ensure the protection and stewardship of spectrum necessary for space commerce, not only for space purposes and unique uses but to also make sure that we are competitive in terrestrial areas as new technologies such as 5G come along.”

New Space Traffic Policy

In addition to regulatory reforms centering on commercial space launch and re-entry, and remote sensing as well as protected spectrum for satellite communications, Pace also addressed new space traffic policy. On April 16, during the 34th Space Symposium, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence announced in a speech that new space policy would make the Department of Commerce responsible for providing collision warnings to civil and commercial satellite operators. This, if put in effect, would shift the responsibility away from the Department of Defense, which currently performs this task.

This new space traffic policy has been completed and is waiting for formal approval by U.S. President Donald Trump, noted Pace, adding that it’s the first of its kind and will establish a modern, space traffic management architecture able to promote space safety standards and norms across the international community.

The need for such a policy comes on the back of an expected significant increase in space objects as the likes of SpaceX and OneWeb launch constellations of hundreds of small satellites.

“As the saying goes,” added Pace, “it’s on that large piece of furniture known as the president’s desk. I’m hoping that we’ll have an announcement fairly soon.”