Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves at the Satellite 2023 Government and Military Forum
Mar 15, 2023
Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves at the Satellite 2023 Government and Military Forum
Wed, 03/15/2023 – 14:18
Weather and satellites
AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Office of Public Affairs
Thank you for that kind introduction, and thanks to the SATELLITE 2023 team and the Satellite Industry Association for inviting me to speak today.
Our job at the Commerce Department is to improve America’s competitiveness so that our companies can succeed in the global economy. We want to ensure the United States remains the flag of choice for businesses operating in space. That means engaging with industry to support innovation, expand business opportunities, and provide the clarity, consistency, and transparency that you need to invest and compete.
A year ago, I addressed the SIA Leadership Dinner and announced that the Commerce Department was prioritizing the commercial space industry in our new strategic plan. Today, I am happy to report we have made significant progress.
In the past year, we established a new Commercial Space Coordination Committee, which I chair. It includes the heads of nearly every Commerce bureau and offers a forum to engage the “whole of Commerce” on key space-related issues. This reflects the reality that our work expanding space commerce isn’t confined to one office or bureau, but involves international trade, economic development , broadband-expansion efforts, NIST cybersecurity expertise, and even minority business outreach to expand our supplier base.
We also appointed a Director to run our Office of Space Commerce: Richard DalBello, whom many of you know from his decades of service to this industry, including several years as president of SIA. Richard serves as vice chair on the Coordination Committee, and we meet regularly to discuss issues impacting the commercial space industry and how each bureau can further the U.S. space industry. As I mentioned last year, I have a strong personal interest in space matters and seek to engage wherever I can.
The Department’s strategic plan on space commerce outlines five areas of focus:
Coordinating regulatory functions;
Growing the customer base for U.S. commercial space goods and services;
Improving space safety and sustainability;
Promoting commercial space innovation;
Advancing Earth observation capabilities to empower better decision making.
Let me update you on our progress across these strategic objectives.
Coordinating Regulatory Functions
First, our work to coordinate regulatory functions cuts across domestic and international stakeholders and is designed to promote competitiveness and increase legal certainty, transparency, and consistency for commercial space businesses.
Today, private capital is funding traditional space investments such as communications, remote sensing satellites, and new business concepts such as in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing; active debris removal; and asteroid mining. These ventures don’t necessarily fit under existing regulatory frameworks, which creates new opportunities and challenges when it comes to federal oversight.
We are working toward better coordination among federal agencies to simplify the process for commercial space licensing for stakeholders, including incumbent corporations and startup space innovators.
Commerce is uniquely positioned to help address the situation, as we lead or co-lead three of the four major regulatory processes affecting space. Through NOAA, we have the lead for licensing commercial remote sensing satellites. Through NTIA, we manage the nation’s use of radiofrequency spectrum along with the FCC. And through our Bureau of Industry and Security, or BIS, we regulate space export controls along with the State Department. We recently reorganized NOAA’s Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs office as part of our effort to raise the focus of space regulation in the Department. We consolidated it into the Office of Space Commerce and elevated the combined organization to become part of the Office of the NOAA Under Secretary. This has raised the office’s visibility and allowed it to advance its commercial agenda. My office also works directly with the Office of Space Commerce to ensure that it’s getting the attention it deserves at the highest levels in our Department.
You may recall that, in 2020, NOAA rewrote its regulations on commercial remote sensing to take future innovation into account. As a result, the majority of Earth imaging satellites need only simple licenses.
Over the past year, NOAA’s licensing has improved in speed and efficiency, even as we’ve seen an increase in the number of applications. In 2022, the average time to process a new license application was 22 days – a 20% improvement over the previous year.
Export control is another area where we have made progress recently. Due to the United States’ obligations under the Missile Technology Control Regime, or MTCR, we have policies about providing support or encouragement to foreign space launch vehicles, as the technology is the same used in missile programs. Implementing those policies has often led to restrictions being applied to commercial satellites and satellite components planned for launch on space launch vehicles we did not support or encourage.
In recognition of the growing space cooperation environment, the U.S. government undertook a careful review of how MTCR policy was being interpreted. Today, I am happy to announce a clarification to the policy. License applications for the export of satellites and satellite components to MTCR Partners will now be reviewed on a case-by-case basis – not with a presumption of denial – even if the launch vehicle is one that the United States does not encourage.
That may seem like a subtle distinction. But for those of you who have been denied satellite exports to certain MTCR countries due to the choice of launch vehicle, this change of interpretation will have major business implications. It will open the door to potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in new exports of U.S. satellite and satellite components. Please reach out to BIS for details on how this may affect your license applications.
Growing the Customer Base
Moving on to our second area of focus, we are growing the customer base for U.S. commercial space goods and services.
Commerce’s International Trade Administration works with U.S. commercial space companies to help them win business overseas. If you are a U.S. company and you have not yet taken advantage of their services, I encourage you to reach out to the ITA Advocacy Center and learn what they have to offer.
Over the past year, the Advocacy Center has contributed to seven international space contract wins with a total value of about $406 million. They are currently working on 29 cases involving the space industry, with a total estimated value of $8.9 billion.
Our Office of Space Commerce is also leading efforts to facilitate international space business collaboration. Last November, as part of the inaugural U.S.-France Comprehensive Space Dialogue held in Paris, the office organized a special session involving government and industry representatives from both nations. This “Track 1.5” event focused on increasing U.S.-France business partnerships by identifying barriers that could be removed through governmental cooperation.
The Track 1.5 event was very successful – so much so, that when President Macron came to Washington for his state visit later in the month, I personally briefed him on this activity. In our meeting and in the industry roundtable I co-hosted at NASA headquarters, he took a clear interest in increasing business between our two space industries.
Based on that success, we are now planning a Track 1.5 engagement as part of the next U.S.-Japan Comprehensive Space Dialogue. We will be taking a delegation of American space companies with us to Tokyo next week to hold similar discussions with our Japanese counterparts from government and industry.
At the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit in December, I moderated a Space Forum session to discuss the private sector’s role in supporting a U.S.-Africa partnership. I believe space technologies and space commerce, aided by the U.S. private sector, can play an important role in driving technological and private sector development in Africa. We are actively planning further commercial space engagements with African nations later this year.
Another aspect of our efforts is promoting the availability, security, and resilience of our space industrial base and supply chains. As a first step, last week BIS launched an assessment of our industrial base in partnership with NASA and NOAA.
BIS is now deploying a survey instrument to hundreds of U.S. space companies and suppliers. The data collected will help identify the structure and interdependencies of organizations that support NASA and NOAA systems and subsystems. Please look for these surveys in the mail.
Improving Space Safety/Sustainability
Our third area of focus is improving space safety and sustainability.
This is a top priority for us. With thousands of satellites being launched each year, we must act quickly to prevent catastrophic collisions that could render Earth’s orbits useless.
Congress recognizes this as a priority as well. Our Office of Space Commerce received a $70 million appropriation for FY 2023 – a huge increase over prior years. The majority of that funding is going into the space situational awareness, or SSA, system that the Commerce Department was tasked to develop under Space Policy Directive 3, the National Space Traffic Management Policy.
Commerce is taking over responsibility to provide SSA data and services to commercial and civil space operators from the Department of Defense, so DOD can focus its resources on national security matters.
The congressional funding came with a deadline of September 2024 to field the initial operating capability of our SSA system, and we are working hard to meet that deadline. Our initial capability will only provide a subset of the services we envision, but it will provide meaningful traffic safety coordination to the public.
We recently rebranded our system to be called “TraCSS” – the Traffic Coordination System for Space. I hope you agree that “TraCSS” is an improvement on the original name, “Open Architecture Data Repository.” To build TraCSS, the Office of Space Commerce is leveraging NOAA’s experience in acquiring and managing large data systems for weather observations and forecasting. We are going to partner with industry to the maximum extent possible to minimize disruption to the existing commercial market for advanced SSA services.
Input from leaders in SSA is crucial, which is why I have had continued conversations with industry on this topic. We are seeking to strike the right balance between providing too many services, which might overlap with industry, and providing too few services, which might drive users toward competing, foreign SSA systems.
Last month, the Office of Space Commerce and DoD wrapped up a two-month pilot project to demonstrate the capability of U.S. commercial data and commercial analytics services to provide SSA to about 100 spacecraft. The pilot involved GEO space object tracking data obtained through five commercial contracts, plus SSA data analysis performed under seven additional contracts.
The Commercial GEO Pilot appears to have been a success, providing satellite operators with spaceflight safety services comparable to what they normally get from DoD. The pilot also provided valuable insights that have been incorporated into the planning for TraCSS. The Office of Space Commerce is now considering options for additional pilots while the operational TraCSS system is in development.
Our fourth area of focus is about promoting innovation, which is foundational to everything we do at the Commerce Department.
In practice, this can take many forms, from research and development at NIST and NOAA, to intellectual property protections by the Patent and Trademark Office.
One program that has made notable progress in the past year is NOAA’s Commercial Data Program.
For the past couple of years, NOAA has been buying commercial radio occultation satellite data and using it to improve operational weather forecasts. But until recently, that data could only be shared with other federal agencies and international weather bureaus, or shared after a 24-hour delay. Beginning in January, NOAA has been obtaining this data with the most liberal distribution rights, so that anyone in the world can freely access it in near real time, and use it for scientific or commercial purposes. NOAA is only buying a subset of the vendor’s full daily output, so the unlimited sharing does not prevent the company from selling its services to other customers.
NOAA also awarded contracts last summer for a pilot study in support of space weather, and they are currently reviewing other commercially available satellite data that could benefit NOAA in the future.
We’re also promoting commercial space innovation by expanding spectrum availability. We know that next-generation satellite systems – and new space enterprises built to service and work with those systems – are going to need spectrum to develop to their full potential. We will do all that we can to ensure that spectrum is available both for federal and private sector missions.
The Department is committed to allocating this valuable resource thoughtfully and judiciously, considering commercial sector needs while reaffirming our commitment to protect critical federal missions.
To that end, NTIA just kicked off the development of a National Spectrum Strategy that will, we hope, create a process that can satisfy the nation’s spectrum needs for the next decade. We are seeking feedback from industry, our federal agency partners and all spectrum stakeholders.
NTIA also oversees the Administration’s broadband deployment efforts. Innovative space-based operations are key to enabling connectivity for all, not just in our country, but around the world, where billions of people still lack basic connectivity.
And we have been working through the ITU to improve global connectivity.
I invite all of you to continue to work with us in the pursuit of innovative strategies for connecting those in America and around the world.
Advancing Earth Observation
Our fifth area of focus is advancing our Earth observation capabilities to empower more informed decision-making by the public and private sectors.
To collect observations for weather forecasting and climate monitoring, NOAA flies the nation’s fleet of operational, civilian satellites.
At the beginning of this year, NOAA declared its new GOES-18 satellite operational and designated it as GOES West. GOES West observes weather and climate conditions over the western United States, Mexico, Central America, and the Pacific Ocean. Even before becoming GOES-West, GOES-18 proved its value, providing operational data from its Advanced Baseline Imager, or “ABI,” to augment GOES-17 during the 2022 hurricane season. With design improvements to the ABI loop heat pipe, GOES-18 will be a persistent “eye in the sky” for years to come.
And just two days ago, NOAA and NASA announced the award of a $765 million contract [to L3Harris] to develop the next-generation “GXI” imager for the GOES-R follow-on satellites, known as “GeoXO.” GeoXO’s advanced capabilities will help address our changing planet and the evolving needs of NOAA’s data users. NOAA and NASA are working to ensure these critical observations are in place by the early 2030s.
Over the last few years, NOAA has been reimagining what its future satellite architecture could look like. NOAA has been engaging with the community and issued study contracts to develop a more advanced and agile architecture in Low Earth Orbit and for space weather. We are building in on-ramps for new technology and opening the door to more data purchases, rideshares, and hosted payloads.
As a pathfinder demonstration toward a potentially disaggregated LEO constellation, NOAA is developing the QuickSounder mission. QuickSounder will be a small satellite carrying an existing, proven microwave sounder to measure vertical temperature and moisture profiles. But the instrument is not what’s important here – it’s the architecture, and the test of NOAA’s ability to quickly react to an on-orbit need. What they are pathfinding is NOAA’s ability to purchase and develop small form factor satellite buses and small launch services – with a timeline of a few years, rather than a decade or more.
The QuickSounder mission passed its Milestone 2 – the authority to proceed – in December, and is moving forward to launch in three years.
To be clear, QuickSounder is one small satellite in LEO. If it is successful, then the next step is to develop a group of LEO smallsats and test how that goes. Ultimately, if all goes well, NOAA could potentially replace large multi-instrument satellites for some of NOAA’s core observations.
So that may have seemed like a firehose of information, and I didn’t even get to talk about semiconductors and CHIPS for America!
What I hope you’ll take away from my remarks today is that the Department of Commerce is fully engaged with our commercial space industry. We are pursuing new avenues for business, promoting innovation, and providing regulatory clarity, consistency and transparency that will allow the U.S. to remain the flag of choice in commercial space business.
America’s commercial space industry is vital to our country’s continued global competitiveness. The satellite industry is advancing new technologies, creating good paying jobs, combating climate change, and keeping Americans and the world connected.
All of us at the Department of Commerce are eager to deepen our partnership with you and ensure that the U.S. remains the global leader in space. I hope you’ll continue to partner with us in the months and weeks ahead.
Thank you once again for having me today.
Bureaus and Offices
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
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