The US Department of Defense (DoD) has recommended some US-built satellites and components should be transferred from the US Munitions List (USML) to the Commerce Control List (CCL), allowing greater export flexibility.
Known as the Section 1248 report after the section of the 2010 DoD authorisation bill that commissioned it, the report recommends that authority to classify communications satellites and certain remote sensing satellites, as well as many satellite components, be returned to the president.
"We can't do any of this without legislation. Space is the only category of the USML where the president doesn't have statute authority to make decisions," says the DoD, "so we're asking Congress to change that. We just had two very good days of consultations with the staff of the six committees on the hill that are involved."
The department adds that the purpose of the Section 1248 report is to "give Congress confidence that we're ready to have statutory authority" returned to the president: "We have seen report after report, analysis after analysis about how international trafficking in arm regulation (ITAR) has hurt our industry."
Authority to place an item on the USML or CCL is generally given to the president. Space-related items are the only equipment category required by law to be on the USML. Consequently, the US satellite industry has seen its market share fall dramatically. Today, several foreign manufacturers advertise "ITAR-free" satellites unburdened by US export restrictions.
"With the report that we have just sent to congress, we're hoping we can move forward with energising our industrial base," says the DoD.
In 1999, a rider on the defence reauthorisation bill required satellites and components to be maintained on the USML regardless of their use. As a consequence, any item built for satellites, including mundane components such as fasteners and wiring, is considered military hardware.
The regulations were enacted after two satellites with US-built components were destroyed during launch attempts in China, and sensitive information was given to the Chinese government as part of its investigations into the launch failures. The new Section 1248 report singles out China as an exception, recommending a full ban remain in place for items destined to that nation.
"It makes it very straightforward," says the DoD. "If it has US content, and it's a satellite item and it's in China, it's there illegally. Then you start the enforcement actions."