Satellites are no longer weapons, according to a change in US anti-arms trafficking law. The move gives hope to commercial spaceflight companies wanting to sell their technology on the global market rather than just within the US. However, the focus on Earth-orbiting craft means deep-space missions could still be hampered by onerous security laws.
On 3 January, President Barack Obama authorised a revision of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations law. Since 1999, ITAR listed US satellites and related technology as munitions with strict limits on exports to foreign powers – much to the annoyance of satellite makers. They say they cannot earn what they need to stay innovative without selling advanced technology abroad.
The updated law takes Earth-orbiting satellites and technologies off the list, although the president retains veto power, and the ruling doesn’t apply to some countries, including China, Iran and North Korea.