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BIS Relaxes Export Review Policy for Certain Satellites, Parts

The Bureau of Industry and Security is relaxing its licensing policy for certain satellite exports, a change that could have a “major” impact on satellite industry sales, Commerce Deputy Secretary Don Graves said. As part of the change, BIS will review export applications for satellites and satellite components intended to go to Missile Technology Control Regime countries on a case-by-case review policy instead of a presumption of denial, Graves said.

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“That may seem like a subtle distinction,” Graves said during a satellite industry conference this week. “But for those of you who have been denied satellite exports to certain MTCR countries due to the choice of launch vehicle, this change of interpretation will have major business implications.”

The policy change could “open the door to potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in new exports of U.S. satellite and satellite components,” he said. A BIS spokesperson didn't respond to a question about when the new policy takes effect.

Graves said BIS’ previous policy was designed to limit U.S. support or “encouragement” of foreign space launch vehicles, which use the same technology as missile programs. “Implementing those policies has often led to restrictions being applied to commercial satellites and satellite components planned for launch on space launch vehicles we did not support or encourage,” he said.

The license review policy change recognizes “the growing space cooperation environment,” and allows BIS to review applications for exports to MTCR partners on a case-by-case basis “even if the launch vehicle is one that the United States does not encourage.”

The Satellite Industry Association was "pleased to hear" about the change, SIA President Tom Stroup said in a March 16 emailed statement. “SIA has a long history of working with both the State Department and the Department of Commerce to promote satellite export reform," Stroup said. "SIA and its members actively advocated for the industry while participating extensively in the process that developed and evolved the current rules.”

BIS took similar action in 2021 to loosen certain license review policies surrounding unmanned drones. The agency set a case-by-case license review policy on certain unmanned aerial systems as opposed to a review policy of presumption of denial, a departure from the review policies of the MTCR, which controlled the drones under a “strong presumption of denial” (see 2101110046).

Graves also said Commerce is working to expand the “customer base for U.S. commercial space goods and services.” The International Trade Administration's Advocacy Center has “contributed to seven international space contract wins” worth about $406 million over the last year, he said, and is working on 29 more space industry cases that could be worth a combined $8.9 billion.

He also pointed to the U.S.-France Comprehensive Space Dialogue held in Paris in November, which is hoping to remove barriers between the two country’s commercial space industries. The U.S. is planning to press for similar efforts as part of the U.S.-Japan Comprehensive Space Dialogue, Graves said, and will take a group of American space companies to Tokyo next week to “hold similar discussions with our Japanese counterparts from government and industry.” He also said the U.S. is planning similar “commercial space engagements” with African countries later this year.

“What I hope you’ll take away from my remarks today is that the Department of Commerce is fully engaged with our commercial space industry,” Graves said. “We are pursuing new avenues for business, promoting innovation, and providing regulatory clarity, consistency and transparency that will allow the U.S. to remain the flag of choice in commercial space business.”