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Space Council likely to come up with revised PNT policy in a few months

A file photo of Dr Scott Pace addressing GeoBuiz Summit 2020 in January.

The National Space Council is working on the existing space-based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Policy — last updated in 2004 – and hopes to come up with a new version in the next few months. “There’s a lot of continuity we want to preserve, but of course there have been developments in this field. The satellite signals arriving at the Earth are relatively low power compared to terrestrial systems and the spectrum bands that they use need protection from interference,” said Dr Scott Pace, Executive Secretary, National Space Council, US.

Dr Pace was speaking at a virtual round table on geospatial infrastructure organized by Geospatial Media and Communications on Friday, October 16.

In this aspect, he referred to the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, which adopted an innovative new milestone-based approach for the deployment of non-geostationary satellite (NGSO) systems in specific radio-frequency bands and services. The agreement arrived at by delegates representing International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Member States establishes regulatory procedures for the deployment of NGSOs, including mega-constellations in low-Earth orbit, which makes is mandatory for these systems to deploy 10% of their constellation within 2 years after the end of the current regulatory period for bringing into use, 50% within 5 years and complete the deployment within 7 years.

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Security of space assets

However, Dr Pace also warned that the growth in 5G and IoT services is putting pressure on satellite communications and Vehicular Network System (VNS). “In some ways this is a bit of a tragedy because we see these systems as being complementary to each other and we really want both – not the one or the other situation.” While on one hand, the Administration has been making strong progress in making more spectrum available for 5G to ensure the US remained competitive in the field, on the other hand, there is a growing concern around the security of the space assets and services.

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Highlighting the need for greater attention to cybersecurity, he also explained that the space industry is working very closely with the National Security Council to develop cyber principles applicable to space systems. The US has a national cyber strategy that calls for enhancing efforts to protect its space assets from growing cyber related threats.

This issue was also taken up by Col Curtis Hernandez, Director, National Security Space Policy, National Space Council,in a separate address, as he explained the need forSpace Policy Directive 5 and Cybersecurity Principles for Space Systems. Released on September 4, SPD-5 is part of a broader national initiative that includes the National Cyber Strategy of September 2018, and also in line with National Security Strategy of December 2017, Space Policy Directive-3 (SPD-3) of June 18, 2018.

COVID impact on space industry

The commercial space industry has been doing very well even during the COVID crisis. While it did take a hit, but the impact was not as bad as the others. The billion dollar investments that we have seen in the space sector despite the pandemic is an indication of the market being both mature as well as emerging,” he said.

According to recently published report by Space Capital, despite the pandemic, momentum in the Space economy continues. After a slow Q2, private investment into space companies in Q3 of 2020 bounced back to pre-COVID levels, it said.

Dr Pace pointed to the growth in information services in recent times that are direct to the consumer as well as business to business. “The existence of more than 5 billion smartphones equipped with GNSS chips represents a very large addressable market for location-based services and applications. And in the last few years we have seen emergence of many new types of space downstream chips driven by Big Data advancements in data processing and cloud computing capacity,” he said.

It would be important to note that in the recent times the growth of the intermediate service providers that offer data hosting or processing services has been significant, facilitating data storage, processing and distribution. “So no longer we take a picture and send it some place, and people take a look to understand what it means. It’s a much more dynamic and interactive processing of large amounts of data facilitated by the growth of these other intermediate services,” he pointed out.

Need for regulatory reforms

Dr Pace, however, agreed that when it comes to government regulations, they don’t move as fast as the markets, and the Administration is streamlining and modernizing regulations to encourage commercial industry in space.

“The Administration recognized very early on that regulations were not keeping up with what was happening in the space industry, and there were clear directions to implement regulatory reforms to grow the economy,” he added, while acknowledging the progress that the Department of Commerce has made in updating the regulations in the area of commercial remote sensing that encourages innovations, ensures security and transparency, and continues the United States leadership in space. The May of 2020 regulations to improve the licensing process for private satellite remote sensing operations in the US are leading to new-generation services coming into market.

The National Space Council was revived to coordinate space activities across government deparments. “And as the various sectors of the space industry changes rather rapidly, our job is to make sure the President’s priorities are implemented across the Executive branch and to resolve policy differences that arise between departments and agencies.”

Regional, national and global focus

“Satellite regulations are particularly important internationally because they require a global as well as a regional approach. You know it’s very tempting to focus on only the needs of high density urban areas but space systems are critical for access to underserved populations rural areas and developing countries,” Dr Pace said, while underlining the strong correlation between US national interests in space and promoting global space systems and the needs of developing countries for infrastructure. “I think it’s been very encouraging to see the cooperation we have had with developing countries because we have common interests. So, we want to make sure that everyone has access to 5G whether from space or terrestrial systems as well as non-communication services such as GPS and remote sensing services,” he said.

While expressing confidence in the ability of US space industry to meet future challenges through innovation, dialogues and partnerships between the government and private sector, he assured of a market-driven growth led by transparent and predictable legal and policy structures.

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