Commercial U.S. Satellites to Serve Military Purposes

WASHINGTON, DC, May 14, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. commercial remote sensing industry has gotten a sky-high boost with the loosening of government restrictions on the collection and sale of commercial satellite imagery, hardware, products and services.

Under the new policy, commercial remote sensing satellites will provide images and data to the U.S. military as well as to other government agencies. The government will rely to the "maximum practical extent" on U.S. commercial remote sensing space capabilities to serve "military, intelligence, foreign policy, homeland security, and civil users," the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said in a statement Tuesday.

President George W. Bush has authorized the new national policy which establishes guidance and implementation for commercial remote sensing space capabilities. The policy, finalized on April 25 and unveiled Tuesday by the White House, establishes a "long term, sustainable relationship between the U.S. Government and the U.S. commercial remote sensing space industry."

To date, U.S. military branches and government agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have provided the United States with its remote sensing capabilities from space.

U.S. civil remote sensing systems are utilized for environmental monitoring. They enable research on local, regional, and global environmental change, and support services and data products for weather, climate, and hazard response, and agricultural, transportation, and infrastructure planning.

"A robust U.S. commercial remote sensing space industry can augment and potentially replace some existing U.S. government capabilities and can contribute to U.S. military, intelligence, foreign policy, homeland security, and civil objectives, as well as U.S. economic competitiveness," the White House said.

The Space Enterprise Council of the United States Chamber of Commerce welcomed the administration's new policy for commercial satellite remote sensing. "We are pleased to have a new policy which reflects the realities of the current global and technological environment," said Dawn Sienicki, executive director of the Chamber's Space Enterprise Council. "Now, we must focus on proper implementation of the policy."


This commercial remote sensing satellite, nicknamed Lewis, is being developed under the team leadership of TRW Inc., Redondo Beach, California. One of the nation's largest aerospace manufacturers, TRW developed smallsat technology for several military programs and is currently building commercial lightsats. (Photo courtesy NASA)
The new policy provides guidance for the licensing and operation of U.S. commercial remote sensing space systems; the United States government use of commercial remote sensing space capabilities; foreign access to U.S. commercial remote sensing space capabilities; and government-to-government intelligence, defense, and foreign policy relationships involving U.S. commercial remote sensing space capabilities.

The new plan addresses a number of recommendations outlined by the Space Enterprise Council such as government-industry relationships, operating licensing, and export controls.

"Maintaining the competitive advantage in the global marketplace is critical to our economic and national security," said Sienicki.

Currently, the U.S. commercial industry has two high resolution remote sensing satellites that provide images sharp enough to count cars parked on a street. These images can be used for federal, state and local government mapping, forestry and environmental monitoring, insurance and risk management, and disaster assessment, the Council said.

But Professor Karl Grossman, who teaches journalism at the State University of New York at Old Westbury, says the goverment's move to commercialize remote sensing functions is, in effect, enlisting private industry in the militarization of space.

Grossman, author of "The Wrong Stuff," a book that warns about the U.S. military's desire to "attain the ultimate high ground" by placing orbiting nuclear power systems to energize weaponry in space, says, "There is no line between the civilian and military use of space, there never has been."

It is all so "generic now," he said, that the shuttle program, for example, is effectively being "run by Boeing and Lockheed Martin," U.S. companies that supply products and services to the U.S. space program.

Boeing has just been given an unpublicized multi-million dollar contract to develop a one megawatt nuclear reactor for powering a laser weapon in space, Grossman said, quoting "an absolute impeccable source NASA source."

"Here," he said, referring to the new government policy on commercial remote sensing space capabilities, "we're going to outsourcing, we're doing it with innocuous looking wrappings, but it has a lot to do with space being developed as a new arena of war."

"They call space the new frontier," Grossman said. "I sure would like to see more public participation in developing that frontier. From a positive point of view, the sharing of information will allow people to learn about all that's happening."

"Space is the global commons, we all have a stake, as does all of humanity that comes after us," Grossman said. "We have to exercise stewardship in space as on Earth. So we have to have information, and involvement."