As we move into 2017 the global satellite industry is in a state of transition. In order to ensure a framework for the industry's continued success, this column takes a look at what some of the most effective New Year's resolutions of space administrations, regulators and governments should be in order to encourage continued growth.
1. Access to Spectrum
Spectrum remains the DNA of the satellite industry. To ensure continued growth, administrations should be encouraged to resolve:
• to recognize the value of satellite services in critical government programs, and ensure sufficient spectrum is made available to support the provision of vital public services (such as emergency response);
• that existing satellite spectrum remains available for satellite operators to meet the demands for satellite broadband and other critical services, allowing regulatory certainty and encouraging investment in innovation;
• to make available sufficient additional spectrum to allow the satellite industry to continue to develop innovative technologies, such as cost-effective broadband services in rural and remote locations;
• to adopt technology-neutral policies so the satellite industry can help achieve public objectives and effectively benefit consumers; and
• to ensure the protection of existing and future Earth observation services, particularly as 5G spectrum decisions are made.
2. Licensing of Innovative Technology
According to the Outer Space Treaty, activities of commercial satellite operators require the "authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate state party." Most space-faring states therefore license the activities of national operators.
Moving into 2017, more states are looking to license national activities, particularly the growing number of SmallSats being launched. States such as Finland, Estonia, Hungary and Greece are considering implementing licensing legislation, and others such as the United States, Japan and Australia are considering updating national legislation to deal with innovative technologies, including mega-constellations and in-orbit servicing.
States should resolve to implement effective national legislation, offering certainty to commercial operators. But legislation needs to balance: encouraging commercial activities and investment as well as ensuring the ongoing sustainable use of space resources.
As a licensing condition, many states require operators to take out third-party liability insurance cover. In several European states, this cover is around 60 million euros ($63.5 million) per satellite. Extended to even a small constellation of satellites, the cost of cover would negate any viable commercial business plan.
Administrations should resolve to assess alternatives to per satellite insurance coverage, such as aggregate policies or fleet insurance.
Again, a balance needs to be struck between protecting states and taxpayers, and encouraging commercial and scientific innovation.
4. Brexit — Protections for the Satellite and Space Industry
There are opportunities and risks associated with the United Kingdom's future relationship with the European Union. Although uncertainty resulting from the referendum decision may cause concern to companies, the U.K. government remains committed to supporting the U.K. space industry. For example, moving into 2017:
• the U.K. is the leading state for European Space Agency (ESA) investment in Earth observation, navigation and telecommunications programs and ESA's U.K. facility at Harwell is strategically important for satellite application development;
• U.K.’s export finance budget has doubled, assisting the satellite industry;
• an additional 2 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) research and development fund was announced to support innovation; and
• the U.K. government will invest more than 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) in digital infrastructure by 2021.
The impact of the decision will depend on withdrawal arrangements and conditions to be agreed between the United Kingdom and the EU. I would ask the government to resolve to be mindful of the value of the U.K. satellite industry when negotiating such arrangements.
5. Trump Administration
2017 brings in the new administration of President Donald Trump. It is hoped that the administration will resolve to pursue regulatory reforms and activities to support ongoing space industry growth, including:
• effective regulatory oversight of new commercial space activities (e.g. in-orbit servicing, commercial space stations and lunar landers);
• the shift of non-military space traffic management and space situational awareness from the U.S. Air Force to the civil Federal Aviation Administration, to ensure the safety of space operations and the protection of the space environment;
• revision of commercial remote sensing regulations;
• update of commercial satellite regulations; and
• further U.S. government partnerships and collaborations.
It is encouraging that the transition office has already added individuals with commercial space experience to the landing team assigned to NASA. VS