Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A Growing Legal Framework for Commerical Space

One of the core requirements for commercial business to thrive is the creation of a suitable legal infrastructure. Without this infrastructure, the civil and criminal court systems, even the ones made fun of by Dewey "Pigmeat" Martin in his classic song "Here Comes the Judge," are simply unable to function in their intended role of adjudicating between the various business stakeholders or anyone else who might come into contact with the business or its activities.

That's why the January 2nd, 2013 Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) press release announcing that "The Commercial Spaceflight Federation Applauds the Passage of a Government Risk-Sharing Regime Extension for the Space Launch Industry" is noteworthy.

In essence, it's a case study on the reasons why space advocates and businesses need to understand the legal issues surrounding space activities and maintain the ability to advocate for the appropriate regulations.

According to the press release, the legislation "extends a liability risk-sharing regime created by (the US) Congress that requires commercial launch companies to purchase insurance for any reasonable risk of damage to third parties, and (also) provides an expedited appropriations backstop above that amount and below a statutory limit." This type of legislation exists in other countries that provide launch services and even in other industries (such as the Price–Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act) where insurance costs are perceived as being so onerous as to be detrimental to commercial activities.

Organizations like the CSF and others knew this and were able to appropriately target legislators to insure its renewal for another year even in the midst of the so called US "fiscal cliff" deadline.

These issues aren't just coming up at the Federal government level, as you can tell from the interview below with Spaceport America Executive Director Christine Anderson and Virgin Galactic Senior Program Manager Mark Butler.

Of course, the US isn't the only place trying to understand and appropriately implement core legal concepts necessary for both tourism and other commercial space activities. The just concluded Federal Aerospace Review (most recently discussed in the December 5th, 2012 post "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says"), which focused on "concrete, fiscally-neutral recommendations on how federal policies and programs can help maximize the competitiveness of Canada's aerospace and space sectors" is a current example of Canadian initiatives in this area.

Another important Canadian player is the McGill Institute of Air and Space Law, which focuses on training aviation and space lawyers. The faculty maintains close relationships with the American Bar Association (ABA) Forum Committee on Air and Space Law and publishes the Annals of Space Law Journal.

"Space Lawyers are Go," according to this 2008 article on the io9 website. The University of Mississippi School of Law, which graduated the first "space lawyer" in 2008, also tracks aerospace focused legal issues on its popular Res Communis blog.

Even the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), in conjunction with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT), is doing its part by hosting the Canadian Workshop on the Long Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities on January 22nd in Ottawa.

The workshop is designed to begin collecting Canadian contributions to the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) Working Group on the Long‐Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities. The working group focuses its discussions around existing and proposed international agreements such as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (which has been ratified by over 100 states) and the 1979 Moon Treaty (which has only been ratified by 14 states and is generally considered to be a failed and unenforceable international treaty).

It will be interesting to see what these organizations come up with over the next little while and how their suggestions and recommendations effect commercial space activities in the coming years.

At some point, some judge in some jurisdiction is going to rule on legislation derived from one of these organizations. Lets be ready for it.

Virgiliu Pop knows about space property rights, according to the July 11th, 2011 BBC Focus article "Who Owns Space?"

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