House targets satellite export controls

In an effort to provide relief to the domestic space industrial base, House lawmakers are moving on two fronts to ease export controls of commercial satellite technologies that have been in effect for more than a decade.

Last month, the House approved a foreign relations authorization bill for fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011 that would give the president the authority to remove satellites and related components from the State Department-managed Munitions List, except for those technologies that could be transferred to or launched into space by China.

A few weeks later, the House passed the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill that contains a provision requiring the Defense and State departments to conduct a study of the satellite export issue, including recommendations for the technologies that should remain on or be removed from the Munitions List.

The effort to relax the restrictions -- which were enacted after China obtained classified missile guidance expertise and technology after a failed launch of a U.S.-built satellite aboard a Chinese rocket in 1996 -- has high-level support from President Obama and former House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., who resigned her seat June 26 to become the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security.

"Outdated restrictions have cost billions of dollars to American satellite and space hardware manufacturers as customers have decided to purchase equipment from European suppliers," Obama wrote in a policy statement during the presidential campaign.

The industry agrees, estimating that the U.S. market share for commercial satellite technologies has dropped from 73 percent to 27 percent in the last decade as other countries have vied to get a foothold in the international market that is valued at $120 billion annually.

Meanwhile, Cord Sterling, an Aerospace Industries Association vice president, said in an interview that the restrictions on exporting U.S. satellite technologies may have indirectly helped spur other countries to develop and market their own products.

Even many Republicans, including House Foreign Affairs Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade Subcommittee ranking member Ed Royce, R-Calif., have signaled they want to revise the 1998 law - but do so cautiously, with an eye on China.

"Export control reforms should be made with a very clear-eyed view of Chinese capabilities and intentions," Royce said at an April 2 hearing.

For the aerospace industry, any efforts to ease restrictions on satellite exports would be a welcome move that could help grow an industry that now employs 250,000 workers in the United States - a fact that could make reform even more palatable on Capitol Hill this year.

"It is our belief that the reform of these policies will result in a healthier satellite sector, reinforcing the American industrial position in the global marketplace and at home, and safeguarding both jobs and critical space technology for the nation," Patricia Cooper, president of the Satellite Industry Association, told a House committee in April.

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