Was this page helpful?

Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at the Virtual Meeting of the 27th Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing


Thank you to all the members of ACCRES for volunteering your valuable time to this public service. Your expertise and guidance at this important juncture in the commercial space industry will drive future prosperity and wellbeing of all Americans. It sounds like the discussions you have had during the first two days have been extremely productive.

Thank you, also, to the commitment of the esteemed members of Congress who have already participated in this meeting. In their leadership roles in Congress, Senator Cruz, and Representatives Horn and Babin are key to the growth of the U.S. commercial space industry. Their presence says a lot about the importance of your work. I greatly appreciate the strong support that Senator Cruz and Congressman Babin voiced for the Office of Space Commerce.  I believe that strengthening and funding the Office are key to supporting the growing U.S. commercial space industry.

It is also gratifying to see that so much of the innovation and growth taking place in the space industry is from the U.S. private sector. I had the honor of witnessing this first-hand a few weeks ago in Florida with the successful launch of the SpaceX Dragon rocket with two Americans on board for the first time in almost a decade. And last week, outside Philadelphia, I visited AGI, another innovative company whose software products and services are addressing the vexing problem of space debris.

It is also important to note during this pandemic that the success of companies like SpaceX and AGI is an encouraging reminder to all Americans that our country has not lost ─ and never will lose ─ its commitment to innovation, entrepreneurship, hard work, and perseverance. As more entrepreneurs and companies are entering the remote sensing business, they are providing new insights into our natural world and our place in it.

The entire planet is being imaged at least once per day  ─ and there are now capabilities to view and image one place on Earth up to 12 times over a 24-hour period. Last year, 26 percent of the small satellites launched were devoted to remote sensing, and 60 percent of these smallsats were produced by U.S. companies.

Remote sensing is driving efficiencies in numerous industries, from agriculture to logistics, and it is essential in fueling the trillion-dollar space economy. As you know, the commercial remote sensing regulation published in May takes effect next month. The new rule is a big win for your industry, and we are proud of the team that ushered it through the labyrinth of our federal space enterprise. By eliminating risks, we believe the rule allows the U.S. commercial industry to accelerate innovation and introduce new products and services. Thirty-five other countries are already in the remote sensing business, and countless others have targeted this growing market.

This rule is intended to advance America’s global leadership in this crucial sector. It was developed with the guidance of U.S. industry, and would not have been possible without the help of this committee.

In the meantime, we continue to make progress in reducing the regulatory burden on our space sector. We have cut NOAA’s licensing timelines by 70 percent, from an average of 214 days in 2017 to 65 days last year. However, we need to do more.

Last year at this meeting, you told us that our first draft of the rule would be detrimental to the U.S. industry and that it could threaten a decade’s worth of progress. You provided us with assessments of technology, foreign competition, and the impact of new remote sensing applications. We listened. We made the case with our government colleagues that the U.S. industry must innovate and introduce new products as quickly as possible. We argued that it was no longer possible to control new applications in the intensifying global competition for dominance.

I met with the Department of Defense Deputy Secretary Norquist and General Hyten to discuss their concerns. We incorporated their ideas into the new regulation and were able to publish the new rules while protecting national security. Our military understands that it must adapt to capabilities that are available to many users around the world.

The new regulation increases transparency for licensees, and it removes the permanent technical restrictions placed on their operations and their product offerings. The data availability standard built into the regulation allows for the development and market introduction of novel systems. But it also limits the timelines for conditions to a total of three years, unless I get a call from Secretary Esper or Secretary Pompeo.  I love talking to both of them, but I hope they don’t call me ever on this topic!

Finally, we welcome the continuing input of your committee as we implement these rules.

My thanks to the General Counsel at NOAA; the agency’s Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs Office; and the Office of Space Commerce for their efforts on your behalf. Dr. Scott Pace must also be commended for his leadership in insisting that we “get this done,” – especially as we headed into the turbulence caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

And, again, my thanks to all of you for participating in the crafting of this rule. I look forward to the exciting developments taking place in the commercial remote sensing industry. And I wish you a most productive conclusion later today to your three days of meetings.

Thank you, and stay well.