Headline Feb 12, 2015/ ''' GREY SPACE LAWS :-: REAL SPACE WARS '''



PROBLEMS FOR space start-ups do not end at the edge of the atmosphere.

Dozens of firms want to commercialise space in various ways. Bureaucracy, not just gravity, is holding them back.

Ambitious firms wanting to mine the  MOON   and  asteroids are entering a legal grey area.

A United Nations Outer Space Treaty from 1967 says nations cannot claim sovereignty over celestial bodies, but says nothing about individuals or businesses.

Planetary Resources, a start-up hoping to use Robots to mine asteroids, is lobbying to bring up to date:

''It would be great for the  UN   and major space-faring nations to agree that if a company goes to an asteroid, they'd have the mineral rights for  100  years,'' says its founder,  Eric Anderson.
And then there is the question of vehicle certification to consider also..

The first private astronauts and space tourists may soon take to the skies in new launch vehicles, and the FAA has initially agreed to license commercial spacecraft  without certifying-

 As it does for aircraft, that the vehicles are safe to carry humans.

The idea is that specific safety criteria will become apparent only once the rockets are flying and  (though it is rarely admitted)  an accident eventually happens.

This learning curve will keep costs down makers of the new spacecraft, even if significant compliance expenses are likely when it is over. The exemption was meant to expire  in 2012 but was extended to the end of 2015.

Commercial space companies are understandably keen for it to be extended again: ''In the dawn of aviation, planes had 20 to 30 years before significant legislation applied, '' says George Whitesides, the boss of Virgin Galactic.

For now, space tourists will be obliged to waive any claims against both the American government and the operator.

They will also have to sign an informed-consent  document acknowledging risks of space travel. But some lawyers question whether informed-consent waivers will stand up in court.

''If passengers are not rocket scientists, can they be truly informed to understand the risks they are assuming''  says Rolf Olofsson, a lawyer specialising in space law.

Companies hoping to ferry NASA  astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS)  and beyond will experience extra scrutiny.

SpaceX, a company that has already made two successful cargo deliveries to the ISS, is modifying its  Dragon  spacecraft so that it can carry up to seven astronauts.

This means working alongside and ultimately being certified by  NASA  officials, who are writing regulations on the job. Space X hopes to launch the first manned mission by 2015.

If it does not get airborne before the  FAA's  certification exemption expires whether in  2015  or later, the company may face two sets of regulations.

''When FAA  does step in, if they have safety requirements that are completely different from the ones  NASA  has put forward, then we have a big problem,'' says Garrett  Reisman, a former astronaut who works for SpaceX.

Yet this seems unlikely in an industry that does not even know what regulations it will face in two years' time.

More space start-ups face the more immediate challenges that red tape is making it harder for them to get off the ground at all.

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