Aug 29, 2008

ITAR and the GLXP - USA vs Rest of the World

Like almost all space technology activities, the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) stands to be substantially affected by the the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) of the United States Government's Department of State.

For a good discussion of the ITAR situation, see this article in the Economist.

In short, ITAR is a major headache for space companies in the US and for organisations in other countries that want to cooperate with the US on space activities. Space agencies such as the European Space Agency (ESA) consider ITAR one of the main design drivers for their missions, treating it with equal importance as mass and cost. In fact, numerous projects and studies are now developed to be "ITAR-free".

Efforts are underway in the US to reduce the administrative burden of ITAR and to remove some components from the ITAR list but so long as the funding for the US civilian and military space agencies continues to dwarf those of other countries, some form of ITAR will probably remain.

ITAR has profound implications for international efforts in the GLXP. Essentially it will be impossible for GLXP teams outside the US to use systems developed by US companies. This includes all the challenging systems needed for lunar landers and rovers such as propulsion systems, communications, radiation hardened electronics, navigation and control. If you are in any doubt that there are dual-use systems suitable for the GLXP, see our recent post on the Standard Missile Kill Vehicle.

GLXP teams based in the US (where most of them are) should not assume that the systems they develop for GLXP will ever be sold to customers in other countries. This is an important limiting factor on the sales projections in their business plans.

Also, any non-US team in the GLXP will need to aquire such systems from other countries or develop it themselves. This is a profound challenge since certain key technologies are almost completely absent outside the US. When it comes to lunar landing for example, the Russians are the only other ones with flight proven hardware.

It looks like ITAR is really is driving the GLXP to a situation of "USA vs the Rest of the World"..

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Charles F. Radley said...

It is possible for US and non-US companies to collaborate, but you need to obtain an export license from the US Dept of State. I can help you with that process, please contact me if you would like assistance in obtaining US technology export licenses.

Charles F. Radley

White Label Space said...

Hello Charles,
It is nice to hear that help is available for dealing with ITAR on the US side, howevever I wonder how much effort is needed. For example, does the company from the state wishing purchase the ITAR-listed product need to submit its complete plan for how it will use the product? Can it guarrantee access to the product? What oversight is there on the end customers by the US Department of State?

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