Spacelift Washington: The First Bush Space Policy

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Today's action puts the first Bush administration 'stamp' on U.S. Space Policy, and while it is only the first policy action in an anticipated series, it has a clearly identifiable cast to its contents. The new space remote sensing policy released today by the National Security Council has a decidedly free market, conservative slant as it seeks to craft a new cooperative framework between U.S. federal users of space photography and the fledgling industry that is struggling to offer such services.

Commercial sources of high resolution images will now be Uncle Sam's primary way of obtaining such images. The so-called "National Technical Means", in English government-owned satellites, will focus only on that capability that cannot be commercially bought. It is a landmark step in the evolution of the remote sensing industry, and if matched with budget resources-something that must be defined in the next several weeks in Washington- could trigger actual growth in that space business sector.

The two current providers of one meter resolution images from space; Space Imaging and Digital Globe, have struggled to define a purely commercial market outside of government clients. Orbimage is set to launch OrbView 3 into orbit this year, making it the third entrant. And the technology research continues into ever greater optical capabilities from satellite platforms.

The Bush policy also in effect drops restrictions on the design and construction of such advanced spacecraft. But embedded in the policy plan are licensing safeguards and other restrictions on where such future, higher resolution pictures could be sold, and to whom. The new policy might require government-to-government agreements if the buyers were foreign entities, or limit such sales to the U.S. government itself.

Administration sources told this column yesterday that the lead agency to implement the policy would be NIMA, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. Even it will get a new shine under the conservative administration: it's new name will be the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. More space policy changes are ahead, in space transportation and possibly navigation and communications. One by one the Bushies are getting around to space. The appointment of Sean O'Keefe was one step. This new space policy is another.

But stay tuned.

Related Links

  • 13 May 2003: U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Policy Fact Sheet 25 April 2003, OSTP
  • 12 May 2003: White House to Release New Space Remote Sensing Policy, SpaceRef
  • 10 March 1994: Fact Sheet Foreign Access To Remote Sensing Space Capabilities, White House

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