Navigating the Policy Compliance Roadmap for Small Satellites

Eleni Sims and Barbara Braun
The Aerospace Corporation

U.S. policy concerning access to space is complex and potentially confusing, with different agencies regulating different types of missions or even different phases of a mission. The situation is even more complicated for satellites that don’t fit the typical mission mold and launches that don’t have a single responsible owner. That describes a growing number of missions involving large constellations of small satellites and multi-payload rideshares, with diverse funding mechanisms and flexible launch strategies. This paper examines the applicable space policy for nontraditional missions and outlines a process to follow to ensure compliance, particularly in the areas of:

  • Orbital debris
  • Spectrum usage
  • Cybersecurity
  • Imaging
  • Proximity operations

The authors find significant opportunities for improving and streamlining the approval process for new space systems. One option would be for Congress to designate a single authority for commercial space activities. A centralized government gateway could help mission planners determine the applicable policy and oversight authority, and then help route the paperwork to the correct regulatory agencies. Transforming the overall process, the authors say, will require time, commitment, cooperation—and legislative action. With the tempo of space launches on the rise, U.S. policy must be agile enough to adapt to new realities and innovative space architectures.