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Satellite Export Controls Get Another Update, JWST No Longer Under ITAR

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jan-2017
Updated: 11-Jan-2017 11:38 PM

The Departments of Commerce and State announced more changes to the regulations that govern satellite exports yesterday. The new rules affect a range of activities from commercial remote sensing satellites to human spacecraft to the James Webb Space Telescope and become effective on January 15, 2017.

After more than a decade of battling stringent export controls that many in the satellite industry claimed hampered U.S. efforts to compete on the global stage, a substantial victory was won in 2014 when many commercial satellite items were moved from the State Department's U.S. Munitions List (USML) and its International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to the Department of Commerce's Commerce Control List (CCL) of dual-use technologies governed by the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).

Still, there were remaining matters to be settled, several of which were addressed in yesterday's announcement.  A summary published by NOAA's Office of Space Commerce includes the following:

  • increases the aperture thresholds for control of remote sensing satellites and components;
  • eliminates controls based on whether a spacecraft supports human habitation, but such spacecraft may be controlled by other criteria;
  • redefines several controls based on technical capabilities rather than end use of the spacecraft;
  • removes and replaces confusing criteria concerning integrated propulsion and attitude control;
  • adds thresholds for controls on electric propulsion systems; and
  • clarifies various ambiguities.

A quick glance at the new rules as published in the Federal Register (the Office of Space Commerce website has links) provides additional details:

  • The aperture limits for commercial electro-optical remote sensing satellites will be raised from 0.35m to 0.50m, which is still short of the 1.1m requested by some of the commenters; and
  • ITAR controls on electric propulsion systems are for those that provide greater than 300 milli-Newtons of thrust and a specific impulse greater than 1,500 sec, or operate at an input power of more than 15kW.

Another interesting decision is that NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is being moved to the CCL.  "A determination was made ... that this specific telescope ... did not warrant being subject to the ITAR."   The change includes parts, components, accessories and attachments that are specially designed for use in or for JWST.   JWST is NASA's next major space telescope.  In many ways it is a follow-on to the Hubble Space Telescope and is scheduled for launch on a European Ariane rocket in 2018.


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