Establish rules for the "place of lawlessness" that is space

Establish rules for the “place of lawlessness” that is space

US President Joe Biden’s administration is drafting an executive order aimed at streamlining approvals for private rocket launches as part of a broader effort to bring legal and regulatory clarity to US businesses on everything from space travel to private space stations.

According to officials familiar with the effort, the order is part of a push by the White House’s National Space Council to modernize US space regulations, which has failed to keep pace with the increasingly ambitious investment and private sector development.

The order, which should be ready for Biden to sign in early 2023, aims to simplify licensing procedures under existing laws for more common space activities like launching rockets and deploying satellites, said one of the sources, who asked not to be named.

The order will direct the US Department of Commerce to create an online tool to help guide companies through the licensing processes of various agencies for space-related activities, one of the sources said.

US Vice President Kamala Harris, who chairs the National Space Council, has signaled her intention to codify new rules for private space activities, but the draft executive order has not been released.

A spokeswoman for Harris did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While previous administrations have made little headway in overhauling U.S. space laws, the Biden administration’s broader efforts to spur new rules, in addition to those targeted in the executive order, are of greater urgency. due to the pace of private investment in space. NASA is also pushing to privatize much of its low Earth orbit business.

Companies like Elon Musk’s Space X, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Boeing and more are set to invest billions of dollars over the next decade in projects including private space stations, service satellites and starships. spacecraft in orbit.

A team of U.S. officials drafting the executive order is also exploring ways to spur congressional action that would give certain federal agencies the role to authorize and oversee these space ventures, one of the sources said.

The executive order is seen as a first step to simplify existing regulations before new rules take shape. Companies like Blue Origin, Axiom Space and others are developing private space stations with unclear procedures on how they can woo foreign governments as customers or carry out their missions in space.

Other unregulated areas include asteroid mining, which startup AstroForge has announced plans for, and orbital debris cleanup, which companies like Astroscale want to tackle.

Current U.S. regulations targeted in the order cover space-related activities on Earth, such as the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight of launch site safety and the Federal Communications Commission’s allocation of satellite spectrum.

However, the absence of rules governing private activities in space complicates the relationship of space companies with potential customers, investors and insurers who need more legal certainty.

“It’s basically…a lawless place,” John Logsdon, founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, said of space.

NASA hopes to land humans on the moon before the end of the decade as part of its Artemis program, which involves dozens of companies including SpaceX.

Companies are increasingly intervening for other countries.

Private space stations like Orbital Reef, which Blue Origin is developing with Boeing and Sierra Space, could be deployed by 2030. These stations would replace the International Space Station, an aging orbital science laboratory run by a group of governments including the United States. , Russia and the European Space Agency.

In this new world, government space powers will become customers and should provide early critical funding, industry leaders said. How the parties will interact remains unclear.

“I have to have a conducive regulatory environment,” Blue Origin senior vice president Brent Sherwood said in a September interview.

White House officials have held several “listening sessions” with space companies since Nov. 14 to discuss rules the space industry would like to see, according to people familiar with the meetings.

The Biden administration’s efforts to update space regulations are crucial to keeping the United States in line with international law. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty obliges countries to oversee the outer space activities of their companies and makes governments largely responsible for the space behavior of these entities.

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