Why the U.S. can't say "No"
By Frank Sietzen, Jr.
Washington - March 13, 1999 - With the current ban on lifting U.S.-made satellites on Chinese launchers, the Clinton administration seems to have shot itself in the foot-again. Most of the technology transfer issues arose from changes in licensing authority that while approved by the previous administration, were actually carried out in 1993 and 1994.
State and DoD got the shorter end of the stick relative to Commerce. And while everyone was happy to make that change, the reversal, which took effect earlier this year, isn't likely to solve the larger and more perplexing issue.
And that issue is the question of access. One large part of the reason U.S. satellite makers like Hughes, Loral, and Lockmart are flying on the Long March is because there simply isn't enough U.S. launchers available for the business.
And while booster makers Boeing and Lockheed are busy trying to fix that problem, it isn't clear if the launch pads at the two existing U.S. spaceports would be available anyway.
A bottleneck of sorts may exist in launcher production, but another- and more vexing problem -may reside with the question of whether this administration has put enough resources into the whole matter of U.S. Spaceport competitiveness.
And that doesn't mean just improvements and technology, important as they are. It also means access to facilities, and making those facilities available when they are needed.
The quiet argument of who should ultimately be responsible for commercial space launch infrastructure (there, we said that dreaded word) continues to rage without any major federal player ready to belly up to the bar.
Isn't it time the baton were passed from the Air Force to the industry over who controls launch sites?
And isn't it about time this administration got serious in deciding exactly what role the feds should play in a space program anyway?
And what we should expect industry to do on it own? And while we're at it, before the finger is pointed at Hughes and Loral about "giving away the launch vehicle technology store" to China, maybe the White House and Congress ought to look in the mirror.
After all, Congress petitioned for several of these waivers themselves. And big Bill was happy to oblige. Before we cut off our satellite's access to foreign launchers, just maybe we ought to do at least a little something to clear the way towards a healthy U.S. space transportation industry. Something other than buzzwords, that is. Triana won't do anything about THAT, Al.
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