Space is an increasingly alluring frontier for international business. Over the next three years, for example, the current $2-billion commercial market for satellites that run global positioning systems is expected to quadruple.
GPS technology allows the position of almost any object on Earth to be exactly determined by exchanging data with a satellite via a ground-based transmitter. A system, for example, could warn Harbor Freeway commuters of a traffic jam, enabling them to bypass it.
American space industries still lead the world in technology, but they are hampered by national defense restrictions dating from the Cold War. Congress should remove these constraints by passing the proposed Commercial Space Launch Act.
American companies are seeking international contracts to launch the satellites, but the law prohibits them from using the most generally economical way: spacecraft that return intact to Earth after delivering their payloads in space. Also, U.S. builders of satellites face endless licensing requirements.
Last year, a similar bill passed the House but died in the Senate because of fears that other countries would acquire the technology and one day use it against the United States. This year’s bill, with further security precautions, won the Defense Department’s unqualified support.
Allowing aerospace industries to freely trade in global markets will never be without risk. But as an old Cold Warrior, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), said recently, the alternative is riskier. Pointing out that America would have suffered economically and militarily had it imposed similar restrictions on its automotive and aviation industries early in this century, Rohrabacher warned that “billions of dollars . . . that should be in the United States would evaporate if we . . . put clamps on our entrepreneurs.”