Permission to land: US draws up rules for commercial moon travel
Government agencies work on solution to cover regulatory gap governing space activities by private companies
US government agencies are working on temporary rules to allow a private company to land a spacecraft on the moon next year, while Congress weighs a more permanent legal framework to govern future commercial missions to the moon, Mars and other destinations beyond Earths orbit, officials said.
Plans by private companies to land spacecraft on the moon or launch them out of Earths orbit face legal obstacles because the US has not put in place regulations to govern space activities, said industry and government officials.
We do not have formal authority today to deal with what happens on orbit or on other planetary terrestrial bodies. Thats the issue that were wrestling with, said George Nield, head of the Federal Aviation Administrations office of commercial space transportation.
What is being looked at right now is a Band-Aid fix because the system is broken, Nield said at an American Bar Association space law forum in Washington on Wednesday.
A 1967 international treaty obliges the US and other signatories to authorize and supervise space activities by its non-government entities. But no US agency has authority to regulate commercial space activities outside of rocket launches, spacecraft re-entries into the atmosphere and operations of telecommunications and remote sensing satellites in Earth orbit.
The issue is coming to a head in part because of a request by Florida-based Moon Express for permission from the US government to land a spacecraft on the moon in 2017. So far, only government agencies have flown satellites beyond Earths orbit.
No commercial company has ever asked to go outside of Earth orbit and go elsewhere before. Were a pathfinder out of necessity, Moon Expresss chief executive, Bob Richards, said in an interview on Monday.
Richards and Nield declined to comment on what specifically Moon Express is proposing.
Other countries are moving faster to establish rules for space launches in compliance with international treaties. Luxembourg last week announced it was partnering with two US companies interested in mining asteroids and set aside 200m ($226m) to woo space firms to relocate. The United Arab Emirates also intends to serve as a commercial space haven.
We dont want to create the environment where theres a competitive advantage for payloads to go overseas, said space attorney Michael Gold, who chairs the Federal Aviation Administrations commercial space advisory panel.