Time to set some rules for space travel?
WASHINGTON — Private companies are starting to get into the business of bringing people and cargo into space. Governments aren't the only ones launching rockets anymore. But some people are worried. They think that the government will make up all sorts of new rules to make it harder for the companies to settle this new frontier.
The people making the rules are from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). That government agency licenses commercial-rocket launches: in other words, private, for-profit trips to outer space.
The FAA has so far been very limited in what it can do: Once a spacecraft reaches orbit, there are not a lot of rules.
But that could change soon.
Companies Looking At Outer Space
FAA officials and space lawyers have been holding meetings this past week. The topic: possible new rules. Everything from mining rights to safety practices is being looked at.
Some guidelines were issued in the past. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967, for example, prevents nations from saying that they own the moon. But space rules have been few and far between.
That is because few countries have had the ability to head into space. It has been even harder for private companies.
But space businesses have been growing rapidly. More and more companies are looking to make money in space.
In 2012, SpaceX became the first company to deliver cargo in space. Space tourism is taking off too: Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace may soon carry passengers into space.
All this has caught the attention of government and business. Many feel there is now a need for rules. They hope to figure out how people and property can stay safe in space.
"Space Junk" And Traffic Rules
Various problems are being considered. For example, how to limit the amount of dangerous “space junk” shed by spacecraft. How to come up with space traffic rules is another problem.
George Nield, who heads the FAA, spoke up this week. In the near future, he said, there will be more "commercial-transportation vehicles" in space. "It is time to consider” setting up rules.
Right now, the FAA cannot make the rules. A law says the FAA cannot make rules about businesses that are trying to send humans into space. The law's purpose is clear: It is meant to give the commercial space industry a chance to grow.
But that law is set to end next year.
Congressman Steven Palazzo says the law is still needed. FAA rules, he said, could prove to be harmful. They could stop businesses from going into space.
But some in the commercial space industry see things differently. They say that a few more rules would be a good thing.
Sea Laws May Make Sense In Space
Rules are going to be made, said Mike Gold of Bigelow Aerospace. The question is, who should make them?
Demand for rules is coming from different places. Some of the demands are coming from insurance companies. Insurers protect people and businesses by paying out money if something goes wrong.
Lawyer Brian Mitchell said insurers need rules. It is a problem for them “if there are no rules of the road up in space." Without rules, you do not know who is responsible when something goes wrong.
But there's one big problem when it comes to setting rules: Right now, there are hardly any rules at all. Because of that, lawyer Russ McMurry has a suggestion: Take a look at old laws written for wooden ships.
Some of the "old laws of the sea," he said, might make sense in space too.