My recent post about a trip to NOAA and a letter published by that office generated quite a hubbub. It was slashdotted, driving a lot of traffic here and to a repost of the letter over at Res Communis. Res Communis found it worthy of a follow-on post, which is definitely worth a read.
Just to provide some more detail for people, I wanted to quote a specific section from the regulations NOAA is enforcing:
Remote sensing space system, Licensed system, or System means any device, instrument, or combination thereof, the space-borne platform upon which it is carried, and any related facilities capable of actively or passively sensing the Earth's surface, including bodies of water, from space by making use of the properties of the electromagnetic waves emitted, reflected, or diffracted by the sensed objects. For the purposes of the regulations in this part, a licensed system consists of a finite number of satellites and associated facilities, including those for tasking, receiving, and storing data, designated at the time of the license application. Small, hand-held cameras shall not be considered remote sensing space systems.
-15 CFR Part 960.3
Now, assuming that you are still awake and that your eyes haven't totally crossed by the time you reach the end of that paragraph, you'll want to pay attention to that last line. As you can see there, legislators carved out a specific exemption for "small, hand-held cameras" in the regulations, something that I'm sure the various private spaceflight participants have appreciated.
As Res Communis explains, there is a good reason for a law like this to exist (though I'm sure many can and will take umbrage): "The policy was formulated to ensure open access to sensed data and to assuage the concerns of the rest of the world that the satellite would be used against them in the form of economic or other espionage." But it's clear that at some point, the quality of pictures (or other similar remotely sensed data, which I'll stick to calling pictures for ease of discussion) reaches a point where it could no longer be used for espionage.
Go ahead, try it! Try to perform some espionage from this image, one of the most famous photographs ever taken. When Gene, Jack, or Ron took that picture, he probably had a number of things in mind--the pure beauty of the scene, the educational and inspirational value, a desire to safely navigate back home at the end of the mission--but clearly espionage was not one of them.
Based on our discussions with NOAA, I have every expectation that they will find some reasonable way to make sure they don't unnecessarily encumber teams that want to take beautiful shots from the Moon, whether that be for purely artistic purposes or for navigation or instrument calibration purposes, so long as that is in keeping with the spirit of the law--to prevent espionage, et cetera. This is new territory for NOAA--but that's one of the fun things about this prize: it's new territory for everyone!