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39th Space Symposium – Space Law Track

The 39th Space Symposium legal track produced several thought-provoking topics from both government and industry speakers. Where can government and industry improve in the business cycle leading to space? Whether defense initiatives or commercial, common ways to improve are through faster processing cycles – export licensing, procurement RFPs, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch licensing, to name a few areas. 

Access to space is regulated by several U.S. agencies, and these regulations are continuously evolving to meet today’s volume of agencies and industry participants conducting space missions. Some key regulatory updates include orbital debris mitigation (FAA, FCC), remote sensing licensing (NOAA), and max probable loss (FAA).

Understanding which agencies to approach for licensing and governing regulations requires a keen understanding of the government or commercial nature of the mission and launch. Commercial launches have moved from DOD Space Force jurisdiction to the Department of Commerce, under NOAA and its Office of Commercial Space. If its 2025 budget is approved, the Office of Commercial Space will develop an online portal to assist space participants in navigating which agencies to approach for which missions.

Globally, we face similar challenges in gaining access to space. The European Union, for instance, lacks regulations governing space or access to space. Mission authorization and space sustainability remain areas that global partners need to address collectively. Intellectual property (IP) concerns arise with respect to how the industry partners protect patents and on-orbit artificial intelligence created IP. As on Earth, so it is in space, the world is concerned with cybersecurity of spacecraft and data.

Industry general counsels opined on key topics. Humans need more speed. Speed in space is crucial, and nuclear power is a proven, safe technology to be harnessed for speed in space. Risk tolerance needs to be reexamined – especially by counsel – to empower commercial and defense players to innovate and provide access to space. While the world proves it can access space more efficiently and frequently, we need government procurement regimes to reinvent how they buy spacecraft, including revamping RFP processes. We all need to accelerate our rate of progress to match the needs of the space industry.