White House sets new policy on remote-sensing systems

The White House has released a national policy governing the licensing and operation of remote-sensing space systems that are used to collect imagery and geospatial data.

To address the government's increased need for and reliance on privately owned commercial space systems to protect national security, the U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Space Policy stresses that private systems should be built to meet security standards set forth by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Defense Department.

The policy, signed April 25 but released Tuesday, also spells out the levels of foreign access to U.S. commercial remote-sensing space capabilities, as well as government-to-government intelligence, and defense and foreign policy relationships involving remote sensing. The term remote-sensing space capabilities refers to spacecraft, ground stations, data links and associated command and control facilities.

The policy also directs Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and George J. Tenet, director of central intelligence, to:

  • Determine which needs for imagery and geospatial products and services can be met by commercial remote-sensing space capabilities


  • Communicate current and projected needs to the commercial remote-sensing space industry


  • Competitively outsource functions to commercial industry to fill imagery and geospatial needs


  • Give the National Imagery and Mapping Agency primary responsibility for acquiring and disseminating commercial remote-sensing space products and services for all national security requirements and, in consultation with the State Department, all foreign-policy requirements


  • The policy places controls on the export of sensitive information or systems to foreign nations, saying that export of that information would be approved 'only rarely on a case-by-case basis.'

    The policy puts Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rumsfeld and Tenet in charge of maintaining a Sensitive Technology List that defines what's covered by the export controls.

    The White House issued the last commercial remote-sensing space policy in March 1994.

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