NOAA Regulations

NOAA Regulations
Last week, Brett Alexander and I paid a visit to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) office in Silver Spring, Maryland.

It turns out that, thanks in part to some discussion on our forums, NOAA had been contacted by a Google Lunar X PRIZE team to make some inquiries about potential license requirements. NOAA had in turn gotten in touch with us, and asked us for a quick briefing about the prize.

In a friendly and relatively brief meeting, Brett and I talked to NOAA about the prize, and told them that it was one open to international teams where teams were not explicitly required to but might optionally chose to image the Earth, either for navigation purposes or for commercial purposes outside of the scope of the prize requirements. We also reassured them that the guidelines for the prize explicitly require teams to comply with all relevant regulations and legislation, but that the X PRIZE Foundation did not intend to get into the business of identifying exactly which laws, et cetera, teams need to follow. After all, we told them, that would likely be an impossible task to do even for a competition limited to only one country, but would surely be overwhelming for a global prize such as this one.

The NOAA officials were appreciative for the brief, but stated a desire to communicate to teams as quickly and as thoroughly as possible that some teams in some circumstance might need a NOAA license. To that end, NOAA has now published an open letter to the teams on their website (link goes to a .PDF), providing some quick details and contact information.

While I certainly encourage each Google Lunar X PRIZE team (as well as potential teams) to contact NOAA directly, as well as probably speaking with an attorney, there are some general rules one can follow to determine if one needs a NOAA license.

If your team has any team members or partners (including launch sites or ground stations) in the USA, and your team plans to take any sort of images of the Earth, you need to contact NOAA. It is likely that for those teams only using the Earth as a navigational tool (e.g. similar to a star tracker) or only wishing to take pictures of the Earth from the surface of or in orbit around the Moon would either be given an exemption or simply walked through the permit process in a very quick and painless fashion. Still, it's important that you contact NOAA and work through this process, preferably soon.

I'm not aware of what similar restrictions are out there for other countries, but I'd certainly encourage each team to be thorough about checking. And if you know of some, please feel free to pass the word along in the comments to this post or on the forum.

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