Easy On The ITAR for Satcom

Wow, that was quite a Christmas present for the rocket scientists: ITAR restrictions for spacecraft are now for the Pentagon to decide. It passed the senate on 21 December 2012 and President Obama signed it into law on 3 January 2013. Sen. M. Bennett of Colorado wrote most of it, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

To the delight of American satellite makers, communications satellites — which orbit Earth to relay phone calls, link ships to shore and broadcast television programs — will become legal for civilian export under legislation that President Obama signed into law on Thursday.

Although the United States founded the industry, manufacturers were forced to pull back from international markets after a 1999 law categorized the satellites as weapons and restricted their export. At the time, Congress was fearful that selling satellites abroad could allow technology secrets to fall into the wrong hands.

The defense bill that President Obama signed will undo that step and let American companies sell communications satellites as civilian technology rather than as deadly arms. Among the beneficiaries will be companies like Boeing, Hughes and Space Systems/Loral.

“This is a tremendous assist for an industry that is inherently international,” said Patricia A. Cooper, president of the Satellite Industry Association, a business group in Washington. “It will ensure our place at the forefront of space.”

Last week’s NYT piece on the topic made it widely known, although I suspect the folks at Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Orbital, SpaceSystems/Loral, Northrop Grumman and a host of subcontractors were celebrating through the holiday break.

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