June 13, 2017

ABA Space Law Panel: ‘It’s an amazing time to be in this business’

A panel discussion on a United States perspective on this year’s state of space at the 2017 Air and Space Law Update Conference featured panelists Mike Gold, Michael Hoversten, James Muncy, Sumara Thompson-King, and Glenn Tallia. The June 8th conference was sponsored by the ABA Forum on Air & Space Law and was held in Washington, D.C.

Panelists address advancements in space law during the 2017 Air and Space Law Update Conference


The panel discussed advancements in space law that began with the signing of the Outer Space Treaty in 1967. Panelists provided comments on a wide range of space issues, including the need for updated remote sensing technology, the new administration’s effect on government agencies, and Congress’ newly proposed American Space, Commerce, and Free Enterprise Act of 2017.

“No dramatic changes should be made to the space treaty,” said Gold, vice president of Space Systems Loral D.C. Operations, referring to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which established that no nuclear or weapons of mass destruction are allowed in orbit around Earth or outer space. Gold emphasized that “the solution is for us to reach out to our allies to understand the treaty rather than amend it,” and expects the House and Senate will be looking at how we can encourage innovation in space law.

Hoversten, chief counsel for Space for Air Force Headquarters Space Command at Peterson AFB, C.O., took into account the many technological advances that have occurred in the field since the Treaty was signed. He shared that “we are preparing for the possibility that armed conflict may extend into space.” During the panel’s question and answer portion, he added that “the last thing the U.S. wants is a war in space… there are other ways you can defend yourself.”

Muncy, founder of PoliSpace in Alexandria, V.A., noted how the commercialization of space has evolved, claiming that “space is not a purely governmental activity anymore, it is now vibrantly a harmonious symphony of multiple private actors, multiple government participants… and many government policy participants and regulators.” Muncy discussed the implications of Congress’ proposed American Space, Commerce, and Free Enterprise Act of 2017, which improves the U.S. space-based remote sensing regulatory system, saying it attempts to correct the mistakes of the 1992 Land Remote Sensing Policy Act that the 1998 Commercial Space Act didn’t quite fix.

Thompson-King, general counsel for NASA in Washington, D.C, acknowledged the new administration’s effects on agency vacancies. “We will get an appointed administrator, but right now, like many other agencies in the government, we don’t have one,” she said.  Thompson-King commended Congress for awarding NASA a $19.8 billion budget in fiscal year 2017, saying, “Four years ago, we dreamed of a $19 billion budget, we prayed for a $19 billion budget.”

Tallia, section chief of NOAA’s Office of the General Counsel in Washington, D.C., spoke about the effect of commercialization of space on NOAA, saying that “We’re being asked to share some of the (satellite) spectrum with people who won the rights to do so through FCC (Federal Communications Commission) auctions.” Users of NOAA-licensed satellite systems may possess imagers capable of assessing the earth, Tallia said. He emphasized that a gap exists in the government’s perception of space activity, with the White House typically unsure about NOAA’s private remote sensing space systems licensing procedures.

The panelists all agreed this is an exciting time for space law. “It is truly a great time to be working in this field because we are addressing fundamental issues,” Muncy said.

The moderator of the panel was Joanne Gabrynowicz, professor emerita at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss.