Operators of satellites equipped with remote sensing capabilities must obtain a license from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s (“NOAA”) Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (“CRSRA”) office. Remote sensing means “the collection of unenhanced data by an instrument in orbit of the Earth which can be processed into imagery of surface features of the Earth.” See 15 CFR § 960.4.
An applicant should start the process of applying for a remote sensing license by filling out the one-page Initial Contact Form, found on the NOAA CRSRA Web site at http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/CRSRA. After NOAA has reviewed the form, they will determine if the sensors require a license. If a license is required, they will contact the applicant for further information. Once NOAA has made their determination either way, they will notify the applicant by letter or email.
If a license is required, the applicant must send a written application to the Assistant Administrator, NOAA Satellite and Information Services. Contact information can be found at http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/ CRSRA/. There is no application form, but the required information is listed in Appendix A of 15 CFR Part 960. Submissions should be compiled in the same order as listed in the appendix, and all fields in the application must be addressed even if the answer is “none” or “N/A.”
For imagers designed to only take images of Earth, the application process is fairly straightforward, and approval takes approximately 120 days following submission (separate from the initial contact form). NOAA will provide feedback on draft applications prior to formal submission to help smooth out the process. If the satellite is to image anything other than Earth (i.e. other spacecraft), an NEI (Non-Earth Imaging) waiver will need to be submitted as part of the application, which can add a significant amount of time to the application process.
NOAA Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) office categorizes each private space-based remote sensing system it licenses based on an analysis of whether the system produces or is capable of producing unenhanced data already available from other entities.
As of Q3, 2022 CRSRA had:
When determining whether unenhanced data are substantially the same as other unenhanced data, factors include but are not limited to:
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