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.

Bluelip said...

I'm confused about this "land remote sensing policy part" part. Can someone elaborate about the legislation in regard to how it came about?

Mike Coles

Runaway1956 said...

Uhhhh - basically, anyone who wishes to take a photo of the earth has to have a license from NOAA???


Marc Paradise said...

Sounds like a great way to ensure that innovation does /not/ occur within the US. I understand that in 1992 the reasoning was probably different... but that was 16 years ago. There's no benefit to be had from such a requirement, and it can only serve as a deterrent to those who wish to compete in this.

The Ornery Pilgrim said...

they don't have jurisdiction up there... they can't

Anonymous said...

Dear NOAA,

With all due respect, we cannot allow you to claim licensing rights to the Earth at this time. Your attempt to effectively copyright THE EARTH and subsequently license it is without merit, as a clear right of ownership cannot be established. The Earth is the birthplace and ultimate resting place of every human being who has ever lived. It is the origin and home of all known life in the Universe. You may claim an entire planet as intellectual property, argue eminent domain, or make it part of a licensing agreement. We are concerned that any credence given your claim may set a dangerous precedent. For example, one may not copyright the sky, and encrypt it with anti-piracy technology. Such a proposal could be considered grounds for filing a Deed of Trust for the entire Universe.

I have it on good authority that the NOAA is not, in fact, in title, possession, or authority with regards to The Earth. In fact, The Meek currently hold Title to The Earth, and as it is a joint ownership of real property, would be required by law to furnish the appropriate officials with documents signed by all vested parties, and/or powers of attorney.

Perhaps you can try Saturn. I hear its moons are lovely, and no one has yet laid claim to them.

But we regret to inform you that your claim of licensing rights to The Earth, the home of all humankind, is erroneous and cannot be substantiated at this time.

Warm Regards,
Eric LaBrant
Unilaterally, The Meek

Digital Angel said...

Re: Eric LaBrant

Your point is invalid. If somebody wants the right to launch a potentially dangerous vehicle in to orbit, they must obtain permission from the government. If the US government wants to deny launch rights to anybody who does not agree to the terms the NOAA has placed on photographing the earth from orbit, then they can do that.

Anonymous said...

Digital Angel: This requirement is only for parties wishing to launch from USA territory. There is no way they can impose any regulations on non USA flagged vehicles launching elsewhere.

Unknown said...

This regulation is not intended to limit innovation but to limit international "issues". It is written with the expectation that the US private industries have innovative capabilities.

Imagine if I were to send up a satellite that randomly scanned the Earth with seriously high res imagery; one of two things could happen: 1) I could potentially expose a national security or 2) I could create an incident where an enemy country publicly claims that I'm really a covert military spy satellite and cause an international fear monger reaction.

The license more or less states that if you take images of a country, then you are bound legally to provide un-enhanced raw data of your images to the US Government as well as the head of governments that you took pictures of to prevent any incident caused by speculation.

With modern technology and space based spy systems, it's not hard to invade someone's privacy and/or sovereignty. Although, such invasion may be in of itself innocent the ramifications could be much bigger.

The best thing to do, is apply for the license and be open with any pictures you take and quit being a fear monger. This country was/is based on innovation and freedom; but freedom and innovation comes with a level of responsibility.

truthspeaker said...

So, NOAA has owns the copyright on the earth and has the legal right to decide who can photograph? Sure.

William said...

That's not exactly it, truthspeaker. More detail in a more recent post.

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