The US government will greatly relax export restrictions on satellites and most components, according to a Federal document published on 24 May.

The change to what is known as the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations (ITAR) has long been sought by the US satellite industry, which has been largely restricted from selling satellites and components abroad, leading to a near-total loss of market share.

The change moves satellites from the US Munitions List (USML), meant to restrict the sale of weapons and dual-use items, to the Commerce Controlled List for economically sensitive but non-militarised goods. Effectively, the move declares that satellites are not necessarily for military use.

The regulations were initially put into place after two US commercial satellites were lost during separate launches in China. It became clear to many that China was using the post-accident investigation to gather sensitive data, and the US Congress subsequently passed a law moving satellites to the USML, and removing presidential authority to shift them back.

Only after the US share of the commercial satellite market went from near-total dominance to near-total irrelevance did opinion shift back in the other direction. Congress restored presidential authority with language in the 2013 military budget.

The satellite industry is "pleased that the Administration has moved quickly to right-size the rules that govern exports of satellites and their parts and components, just a few months after Congress restored their authority to do so," says Patricia Cooper, president of the Washington, DC-based Satellite Industry Association. "We view sensible and effective export controls as a vital tool to enhance our nation's space industrial base and encourage the satellite sector's ongoing leadership in innovation and investment."

Source: Flight International