Defense bill lifts barrier on satellite exports

Wed Dec 19, 2012 4:05pm EST
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By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Tucked into the annual U.S. defense budget bill making its way through Congress this week is a long-fought and potentially lucrative reprieve for U.S. satellite manufactures and suppliers to export their products, officials said on Wednesday.

Since 1999, spacecraft and their components have been grouped with ammunitions, fighter jets and other defense technologies and subject to the nation's most stringent export controls.

The restriction followed a 1996 Chinese rocket launch accident that claimed a U.S.-manufactured satellite. In the course of the investigation, the company was accused of inadvertently transferring restricted technology to China.

Before 1999, the State Department had the option of processing satellite and spacecraft component export requests under more lenient commerce control guidelines.

"We are going to give the president back that power," space attorney Michael Gold, who headed a Federal Aviation Administration export control advisory group, told Reuters.

Under the bill, satellite sales to China will remain sanctioned, a key compromise that paved the way for the provision easing export controls to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, a $633.3 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that began October 1.

The bill, which this week passed a conference committee of lawmakers from the Senate and the House of Representatives, is slated for final vote by both chambers before it passes to President Barack Obama for signing.

"My expectation is that this legislation will return us to a pre-1999 state of affairs," said Gold, who oversees business operations for Bigelow Aerospace. "This is a critical step."   Continued...