One of the less enjoyable aspects of the various projects that I’ve otherwise had the pleasure to work on is the boondoggle known as ITAR, which stands for International Traffic in Arms Regulation. It’s the compendium of rules, regulation and agreements that control the relationships between countries, companies and individuals when dealing with armaments. Pretty important stuff these days.

Not surprisingly, satellites and their parts fall under this category of munitions.  So do processors.  And circuit boards wires and nuts and bolts and darn near anything that touches a given satellite.  This has caused some confusion.  And Problems.  And wailing and gnashing of teeth.

[T]he wording of the legislation is open to broader interpretation than Congress intended. An international GPS ground station may have to get export approval to buy a new screen for its Dell laptop, because it is part of a system that is controlled. Pierre Chao, a senior associate at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think-tank in Washington, DC, says that as soon as satellites were put on the munitions list “the little screw and the commodity wiring became a munition”. Furthermore, anything modified for a munition is a munition. This clause, he says, captures all the little “doodads”.

Before 1999, when the State Department took over the export regulation of satellites, America dominated commercial satellite-making with an average market share of 83%. Since then, this share has declined to 50%, according to Space Review. ITAR’s critics blame the change in export controls. As bidding opened in July this year for the 3.4 billion ($5 billion) of contracts for Galileo, a constellation of 30 positioning satellites being built by the European Union and the European Space Agency, European officials cited export controls as a reason for avoiding anything to do with America wherever possible.

At the start of the decade, Alcatel Alenia Space (now Thales Alenia) announced that it would create an “ITAR-free” spacecraft, purged of all American components. Between 1998 and 2004 the company doubled its market share to over 20%, becoming perhaps the greatest beneficiary of export policies. Export controls also prompted the European Space Agency to pay to develop a European supplier of solenoid valves, so that European space-propulsion systems do not depend on this American part. Similarly, Telesat, Canada’s satellite-fleet operator, has said that ITAR is one of the reasons it has selected European satellite builders in recent competitions. And in 2005 EADS Sodern, a French maker of satellites’ control and positioning systems and subsidiary of the Franco-German company EADS, said it would start to phase out its American supplier base.

In other words, it’s been a costly policy that adversely impacts small and medium size companies severely, threatens their employees and yearly subjects them to insulting (and sexist) “training” videos.

Other than that, it’s a good program.

H/T Rand Simberg.

Explore posts in the same categories: domestic, Personal, politics, Space

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