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About the Licensing of Private Remote Sensing Space Systems

Welcome to NOAA CRSRA Licensing Program. This web site is intended to provide U.S. laws, regulations, policies, and guidance pertaining to the operation of commercial remote sensing satellite systems. Pursuant to the National and Commercial Space Programs Act (NCSPA or Act), 51 U.S.C. § 60101, et seq, responsibilities have been delegated from the Secretary of Commerce to the Assistant Administrator for NOAA Satellite and Information Services (NOAA/NESDIS) for the licensing of the operations of private space-based remote sensing systems.

In accordance with the Act, the regulations 15 CFR Part 960 concerning the licensing of private remote sensing space systems have been promulgated.

NOAA/NESDIS encourages consultation meetings with potential applicants before a license application is submitted. These meetings will be informal and are not considered part of the agency record of an application.

Who is Required to Apply for a License?

It is unlawful for any person who is subject to the jurisdiction or control of the United States, directly or through any subsidiary or affiliate to operate a private remote sensing space system without possession of a valid license issued under the Act and the regulations.

Applying for a License

The process to apply for a license to operate a private remote sensing space systems is described in the regulations 15 CFR Section 960.4. This section outlines license application instructions. Additional information regarding the content of a license application has been included in Appendix 1 of the regulations. In general, a license application should contain a complete description of the design of the sensor payload. The license applicant should note that subsequent changes to the design affecting the system's operational capabilities after a license is awarded may require a license amendment. NOAA has up to 120 days to make a determination for the issuance of a license and will coordinate the review process within the U.S. Government.

NOAA has the obligation to keep confidential proprietary information submitted by licensees or potential licensees. Documents considered business confidential or proprietary information may include foreign agreements and supporting documentation that are explicitly designated and marked as business confidential or proprietary by the applicant. NOAA requires licensees to provide a summary of system information that can be made public within 30 days of issuance of the license. Application Process

General Licensing Conditions

As set forth in the regulations 15 CFR Section 960.11, the conditions for operation of all systems licensed under these regulations includes NOAA's requirement to protect national security concerns, foreign policy and international obligations of the United States. Attuned to this requirement, a license contains rigorous conditions on the operation of a system, including the requirement that the licensee maintain operational control of its system from a U.S. territory at all times and incorporate safeguards to ensure the integrity of system operations and security of its data. It is important to note that the license requirement imposed on the licensee that it maintain "operational control,'' as the term is defined in 15 CFR Section 960.3 of the regulations, is an implementation of U.S. obligations under the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967. That treaty provides that the U.S. Government, as a State party, will be held strictly liable for any U.S. private or governmental entity's actions in outer-space. Consequently, NOAA requires that licensees under this part maintain ultimate control of their systems, in order to minimize the risk of such liability and assure that the national security concerns, foreign policy and international obligations of the United States are protected.

The Kyl-Bingaman Amendment

Consistent with the requirement that licensees operate their systems in a manner that protects national security concerns, foreign policy and international obligations, Section 1064, Public Law No. 104-201, (the 1997 Defense Authorization Act), referred to as the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment, requires that ``[a] department or agency of the United States may issue a license for the collection or dissemination by a non-Federal entity of satellite imagery with respect to Israel only if such imagery is no more detailed or precise than satellite imagery of Israel that is available from commercial sources.'' Pursuant to that law, the Department of Commerce will make a finding as to the level of detail or precision of satellite imagery of Israel available from commercial sources. Moreover, as the statutory limitation applies to U.S. licensees, the term "commercial sources'' is interpreted for purposes of these regulations as referring to satellite imagery so readily and consistently available from non-U.S. commercial entities that the availability of additional imagery from U.S. commercial sources may be permitted.

As part of its licensing process, NOAA requires an applicant to submit a plan explaining how its proposed system will be able to restrict the collection and/or dissemination of imagery of Israeli territory at a level of resolution determined by the Commerce Department. NOAA will review this plan to ensure compliance.

Notification of Foreign Agreements

Licensees must notify the Assistant Administrator of any significant or substantial agreement that they intend to enter into with any foreign nation, entity, or consortium, not later than sixty days prior to concluding the agreement.

This reflects the need to balance between promoting the commercial U.S. remote sensing industry and those requirements imposed by national security concerns, foreign policy and international obligations of the U.S. Government. 15 CFR Section 960.8 establishes the procedures, timelines and criteria for review and approval of a licensee's significant and substantial foreign agreements. A significant or substantial foreign agreement is an agreement with a foreign nation, entity, consortium, or person that provides for one or more of the following:

  1. Administrative control which may include distributorship arrangements involving the routine receipt of high volumes of the system's unenhanced data;
  2. Participation in the operations of the system; including direct access to the system's unenhanced data; or
  3. An equity interest in the licensee held by a foreign nation and/or person, if such interest equals or exceeds or will equal or exceed twenty percent of total outstanding shares, or entitles the foreign person to a position on the licensee's Board of Directors.

The Assistant Administrator shall, forward a copy of the proposed foreign agreement to the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of the Interior, and any other Federal agencies determined to have a substantial interest in the foreign agreement. The Assistant Administrator, in consultation with other appropriate agencies, will review the proposed foreign agreement. As part of this review, the Assistant Administrator will ensure that the proposed foreign agreement contains the appropriate provisions to ensure compliance with all requirements concerning national security interests, foreign policy and international obligations under the Act or the licensee's ability to comply with the Act, the regulations and the terms of the license.

Spacecraft Disposal and Orbital Debris Mitigation Plan

As an additional licensing requirement, licensees shall, "upon termination of operations under the license, make disposition of any satellites in space in a manner satisfactory to the President," in accordance with Section 202(b)(4) of the Act. Under 15 CFR Section 960.11 and the terms and conditions of the license, NOAA has interpreted this requirement to mean that a licensee shall assess and minimize the amount of orbital debris released during the post-mission disposal of its satellite. Applicants are required to provide at the time of application a plan for post-mission disposition of remote sensing satellites. The U.S. Government has developed orbital debris mitigation practices for use in government missions. These practices include control of orbital debris released during normal operations, minimization of debris generated by accidental explosions, selection of a safe flight profile and operational configuration, and post-mission disposal of space structures. See U.S. Government Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices. NOAA will review an applicant's plan for post-mission disposal on a case-by-case basis. NOAA will assess whether the plan, including satellite design and components, provide an acceptable post-mission disposal method to mitigate orbital debris and minimize any potential adverse effects. Applicants are specifically required to submit a casualty risk assessment if planned post-mission disposal involves atmospheric re-entry of the spacecraft.

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