Going For The Lunar X Prize? Want To Take Photos? NOAA May Require You To Get A License

from the really? dept

The Google-sponsored Lunar X Prize has received plenty of attention. Similar to the original X Prize for a privately built manned spaceship, the focus of the Lunar X Prize is to get a privately built spaceship to the moon with a robot (so, unmanned), then have that robot travel 500 meters and then send video and images back to Earth. Cool, right? Of course, you can imagine that there would be numerous permits and licenses necessary before you could just privately blast something out into space (and onto the moon). However, an anonymous reader points us to an odd one. It appears that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is warning users they may need a special license from the NOAA for any sort of remote sensor which establishes a sustained connection with Earth. In fact, some are warning that any entrant in the contest that wants to take any images of Earth needs to first get a license from the NOAA. While the NOAA points to the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992, it’s not clear why it makes sense that an entrant in such a contest should need a special license just to take photos.

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Comments on “Going For The Lunar X Prize? Want To Take Photos? NOAA May Require You To Get A License”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: We should have let you American Bashers speak German

Interestingly enough the Lunar X Prize is sponsored by an AMERICAN company, is launching from AMERICAN soil with the intended recievers in AMERICA. I can’t see how this is a global issue, but go ahead, keep bashing America. You’re slowly wearing at the American people and eventually the American public is going to say enough is enough and the next time someone comes to take over your country we are just going to turn away and let them. Better brush up on your foreign language skills, we arent going to save you next time.

wasnt me! says:

nvm about ESA Entry.

quotation from NOAA Open Letter to Google Lunar X PRIZE Participants:
“…If so, and if your team is based wholly or partially in the USA, you may need to apply for a license from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).”


Dr. Klahn says:

Simple enough solution

I bet there’s any number of countries and companies outside the U.S. that would be proud to site the downlink at no charge.

This is a typical Washington passive-aggressive bureaucrat going out of their way to make things as difficult as possible simply because they can.

I think it was Robert Heinlein who said something to the effect of “There will be men on the moon, but nothing says they have to be American.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Read the notice

The letter does not claim that the US has jurisdiction over everyone. It clearly is referring to US-based teams.

What is totally stupid about the announcement is that it only applies to taking pictures of the earth. Use of frequencies and bandwidth issues are licensed elsewhere. They simply don’t want anything that might possibly be competition for their services.

Use of weather data produced largely with taxpayer money is still a tightly controlled industry based on silly laws that predate the Internet. Obviously the industry representative are using their NOAA mouthpieces to assert their divine right to control information from any conceivable secondary source.

Matt says:

Read the policy


I don’t see anything in the bill that indicates a license is required to photograph earth. Perhaps Section 2 P 16 can be construed as some form of governmental oversight:

It is in the best interest of the United States to maintain a permanent, comprehensive Government archive of global Landsat and other land remote sensing data for long-term monitoring and study of the changing global environment.

Does the NOAA maintain said archive?

On the other hand, section 2 paragraph 10 states:

Regardless of management responsibilities for the Landsat program, the Nation’s broad civilian, national security, commercial, and foreign policy interests in remote sensing will best be served by ensuring that Landsat remains an unclassified program that operates according to the principles of open skies and nondiscriminatory access.

Either way, this bill looks like it is more about ensuring the viability of the Landsat program, not about licensing the idea of imaging earth from space. I think YoYo might be onto something with the communication frequencies. You can’t transmit in the US w/o a license; why would you be able to transmit to the US w/o some similar license?


KD says:

@Matt - I read the policy, and ...

@Matt – The link you gave doesn’t work. I read the policy at the link Mike gave in the original article, and the second part of the policy, “SUBCHAPTER II – LICENSING OF PRIVATE REMOTE SENSING SPACE SYSTEMS” clearly requires licensing of remote sensing systems.

My take on the reason behind it is that it isn’t for controlling radio transmissions. I think it is more for preventing private spy satellites. In fact, section 5621-a-2 specifically says that authority is limited only to the remote sensing operations of the system. Section 5656 specifically says that the operator must go to the FCC for radio transmission licensing. I’m not sure whether one can avoid the FCC licensing by siting the ground station outside the U.S., but that probably would just change the radio licensing requirement to that of the country in which the ground station was sited.

The first licensing requirement stated in the policy, in section 5622-b-1, is that the system must operate in such manner as to preserve the national security of the U.S. That’s why I think the main point of the licensing is preventing private spy satellites.

Of course, this applies only to people subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S., so it can’t control spy satellites launched by foreign organizations, but, given that many corporations in the U.S. wouldn’t give a second thought about undermining national security if they could make a buck at it, perhaps a policy like this is justified.

Assuming I’m right that the intent of the policy is to prevent private spy satellites, I imagine the Lunar X-prize participants would have no problem obtaining such a license, since I’m pretty sure any remote sensing they are doing is nowhere near the resolution that would pose a spying threat. I haven’t looked into the matter further to see whether there are any costs involved in obtaining such a license, so I can’t say whether this licensing is an unreasonable burden on the Lunar X-prize participants.

Of course, a bureaucrat who wants to be difficult could make problems for the Lunar X-prize people, regardless of the merits of their applications. But the charitable way to look at the letter that was sent out is that they simply wanted to point out the licensing requirement and the fact that it can take several months to process the application so that none of the Lunar X-prize participants got caught in a time bind due to late application for the license.

A helpful bureaucrat? I dare say some such do exist.

Peter Blaise Monahon (profile) says:

So much for free publicly owned airwaves, free speech (which photography is), free press, copyright, free trade, free enterprise …

If the FCC asked them to get a broadcast license to use the free public airwaves (NOT a permit, a license) to broadcast, that makes sense, I suppose, for anything broadcast over 1/4 watt, right?

Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992 http://geo.arc.nasa.gov/sge/landsat/15USCch82.html is based on Landsat, but seems open ended, calls their issue a license, not a permit, requires all data be made available to the Government (wow), demands flight path plans and such, 120 days prior notice, also demands national security not be compromised (wow again, that’s a catch all!).

Burocrats seem more intent on expanding their powers and usurping the powers of the people, rather than protecting the US Constitution (their only sworn duty) that in turn protects the people … of the people, by the people, for the people.

Yeah, right.

PS – Regarding spil chick – please, everyone, use Firefox and or the Google-style toolbar for their in-built spell check, or edit off line and cut and paste. And, dear web designer, please allow us to later re-edit our own posts. Thanks.

Anonymous Cowherd (user link) says:

Easy solution

Just launch from a barge offshore. Go 100km south of Key West or so into international waters. With a bit more money, launch from a small ship in equatorial, international waters to get that extra bit of “oomph” from the motion of the earth’s surface there.

No way can the US claim jurisdiction if something is launched from international waters directly into space. There are treaties in place that prevent any country from claiming territorial rights on the Moon or in space.

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