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Arms Regulations Damaging US Space Industry 184

Posted by Soulskill
from the law-of-unintended-consequences dept.
athe!st writes "International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) are a major headache for companies trying to put their satellites into space, so much so that some companies are using 'ITAR-free' (aka free of US technology) as a selling point. The European Space Agency is trying to reduce its dependence on ITAR components, and the regulations are also threatening the nascent space tourism industry."
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Arms Regulations Damaging US Space Industry

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  • by Burnhard (1031106) on Friday September 10, 2010 @11:39AM (#33534468)
    Our company used to buy a certain kind of component from the US to put into the products we make. Every single one needed an export licence and an import licence. That is an export licence from the US and an import licence from the UK. If something goes wrong with the component and it needs fixing, we need an export licence from the UK and an import licence to the US to return it for fixing or replacement. Again, that replacement needs another import/export licence. That's just for traffic between the UK and the US. If you're then going to export your product to a third country, you need another export licence and possibly another import licence for that country too. It's so bad we actually hire people just to track what's going on with all of the difference licences!

    To cut a long story short, we switched supplier to a European company who make similar components. Now of course we need an import licence for the US if selling to the US, but in general apart from countries like Iran, we can freely export our product without the nightmare stack of licences and yes, it is a factor you talk about when giving sales presentations.
  • Old News (Score:2, Interesting)

    by doctor_nation (924358) on Friday September 10, 2010 @11:44AM (#33534554)

    Yeah, and this has been the case since, oh, 2001? Well, at least it seems that's when it started to be enforced more strictly. I've heard rumblings that the administration was going to change it, but who knows how likely that is.

    Hmmm... I wonder if we could correlate the US's drop in space proficiency with when ITAR for space components started?

  • by quatin (1589389) on Friday September 10, 2010 @12:01PM (#33534734)

    I was part of the CubeSAT program at my university. We were designing a 1 foot x 1 foot x 1 foot satellite to be launched. To track the satellite, we needed a GPS module on board. However, due to the ITAR components on the module, the student in charge of software couldn't touch the GPS code or schematics, because he was not a US citizen.

  • Re:Sounds like... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday September 10, 2010 @12:08PM (#33534820)

    It's not really very hard to take a space launch system and turn it into an ICBM system, after all the opposite transition is basically how the space industry got its start int he first place (strap a capsule on the top of an ICBM and give it a bit more oomph to make orbit). Now I think that the argument is over what is and isn't commercially available from other countries without export restrictions, and whether the controls should be the same regardless of who you're selling to (does it really make sense to require the same paper work to send a rocket to the UK as it does to say Pakistan?). IMO, once a commercial equivalent to a piece of technology is available, a device should be taken off the ITAR lists, but that isn't the way the system works.

  • Re:Sounds like... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Friday September 10, 2010 @12:19PM (#33534944)

    Nope. Sorry. The big aerospace companies do plenty well by suckling off of the government teat. ULA doesn't bother to sell to non-domestic customers because they know they have a near monopoly on government contracts, and dealing with ITAR is a pain. They don't need ITAR reform nearly as much as tihe small companies, who have to jump through ridiculous hoops for dumb things.

    My favorite example is when Bigelow was preparing to launch one of their test habitats aboard a Russian proton. For assembly, they needed a table, so they grabbed some aluminum slabs out of their warehouse and bolted them together. Turns out this particular variety of aluminum falls under ITAR restrictions, so while in Russia, the table made out of scrap aluminum had to be watched by two armed guards at all time.

    I'm not a tea-partier, I believe that in many cases good regulations make the market much more robust. However, ITAR is not good regulation. It is out of date, it places undue legal and financial burden on small startups, and partitions our space industry from the rest of the world. If we're not careful, we will become a backwater of mediocrity in the high frontier.

  • by Tekfactory (937086) on Friday September 10, 2010 @12:25PM (#33535028) Homepage

    Unless it makes it on CNN or FOX, I say you're wrong, Football season just started.

    As another poster quoted the administration, ITAR treats the M1A1 Abrams tank brake pads as controlled exports even though they are the same brake pads used in firetrucks. Clearly the process needs going over, lots of things that were grandfathered in need to be scrubbed, and common sense applied to what is a weapon and what isn't.

    Security theater doesn't make us safer, but a strong economy and industrial base does.

  • Re:Sounds like... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by HateBreeder (656491) on Friday September 10, 2010 @12:27PM (#33535048)

    There are a handful of commercial companies that can build ICBMs. You can restrict them using ITAR. it works.

    Imagine if companies like boeing, raytheon and lockheed martin would be allowed to sell weapons directly to Iran or to south korea. Would make those tyrannical state's job that much more difficult.

    Currently, they are indeed developing their own versions - but it's a long process and that give you time to either develop countermeasures or to somehow stop them.

    Also, the first version of anything will never be as good as a polished version 20.0 of the same thing. I believe that applies to ICBMs as well.

  • by Alastor187 (593341) on Friday September 10, 2010 @12:33PM (#33535152)

    Where I work we deal with both EAR and ITAR equipment. Since I have been here I have seen a lot of different points of view. Currently, as I understand it, we treat any mechanical or un-programmed electrical hardware as EAR. Unless there are special circumstances (i.e. specific customer requirements).

    Electrical hardware doesn't become ITAR unless it has ITAR software/firmware on it. Sub-assembly and top level drawings are EAR unless they call out a piece of hardware that is ITAR. Once a lower level drawing calls out an ITAR item all higher level assembly drawings have to be ITAR as well. While, an ITAR assembly drawing can call out either ITAR or EAR items, an EAR assembly can only call out EAR items in the BOM.

  • Old Issue (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rhkaloge (208983) on Friday September 10, 2010 @12:33PM (#33535154)

    ITAR has been around for my 10 years in space systems and was around before me. European companies are just using it as an excuse to award European only contracts to kill off American competitors. It's actually been greatly improved in recent years, with a majority of commercial space components being put under the Commerce Dept rather than ITAR.

  • by noidentity (188756) on Friday September 10, 2010 @12:36PM (#33535178)
    Yes, because the world would be better off if every one of us lived on an island, unable to specialize.
  • Embraer KC-390 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by florescent_beige (608235) on Friday September 10, 2010 @12:36PM (#33535190) Journal
    Brasil is developing a C-130-class military transport with no US technology in it specifically to get around ITAR. Scuttlebutt is that Venezuela is the driver but it wouldn't surprise me if most countries are tired of the US sticking their nose in.
  • Re:Sounds like... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Klync (152475) on Friday September 10, 2010 @01:12PM (#33535656)

    During that same time, a New Zealand engineer developed a home-made cruise missile using off-the-shelf parts, a Scottish rocket club built a flying waverider airframe, the Swedish navy were designing stealth ships that were invisible to Radar and nuclear weapons research continued unabated in the Indian subcontinent.

    Wow, to hear you tell the story, I'd say ITAR is doing a great job at driving innovation. I say keep it in place! Of course, I'm not american, either.

    All kidding aside, I think it would be helpful to americans if they could distinguish between what helps their country and what helps certain powerful interests in their country. I don't see much evidence that many of you folk can.

  • by volcanopele (537152) on Friday September 10, 2010 @01:38PM (#33536000)
    It also affects proposals to NASA that have ANY international collaborators. When sending out various drafts, we have either ITAR-safe or ITAR-unsafe versions because foreign citizens not working in the US are not allowed to even read vague descriptions of hardware, let alone have the hardware. So for the ITAR-safe version, whole sections of the proposal have to be removed for the safety of our foreign collaborators. After all, if you know how to build a [redacted for your safety], you must be a terrorist...
  • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Friday September 10, 2010 @05:44PM (#33539516)

    Nuclear weapons are ironic because they are about using space age systems to fight over oil and land

    Wrong. Nuclear weapons are ironic because they are nearly useless as weapons. They are actually too powerful to be very useful. And they would render whatever land you wanted to acquire uninhabitable for a very long time. What's the point of land where no humans can live for a hundred years or so. I don't really see them even as much of a deterrent because no modern nation is going to be stupid enough to actually use them. For weapons that have only ever been used a couple of times when they were first invented (more as beta testing than anything else) I don't really see why so many people are impressed by them. They really aren't all that great. UAVs and robot soldiers OTOH really are strategically important. The idea is to kill as many enemy soldiers as you can without endangering your own soldiers and while avoiding as many civilian casualties as possible. Whoever has the greatest number of remote controlled, bullet resistant, and well armed robot soldiers will have the advantage in future wars. And the nice thing is no humans really have to die until all the robots from at least one of the sides have been destroyed. The US is a military badass not only due to the sheer amount of money spent, but also due to technology. Technology is make or break in a real war against any kind of serious adversary (Afganistan and Iraq were pushovers precisely because they were lacking in military tech). Afghani soldiers actually are pretty badass, but they don't have the technology to compete. If the other side is using arrows we want to be using firearms. If the other side is using firearms we want to be using bulletproof robots with particle beam weapons and xray or gamma ray lasers etc. Even without superior technology you need to have better manufacturing than the other side. It takes more than soldiers to win a war. It takes a whole lot of guns and bullets too.

It is the quality rather than the quantity that matters. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. - A.D. 65)