Could US Space Tourism be Snuffed Out by Red Tape?

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Here’s a problem we didn’t see coming. Actually, we might have guessed it could be an issue, but thought, “no way, this is space travel we’re talking about!” But yes, red tape might get in the way of space tourism interests in the USA. In particularly, if you’re not an American citizen.

US export controls could potentially throw a problem or two into the space tourism mix, preventing non-US fee-paying customers from taking a ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, or doing microgravity cartwheels inside Bigelow’s Sundancer space hotel.

Although Richard Branson is building the world’s first spaceport in New Mexico and XCOR has signed up its first Danish space tourist, the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR) rules might prevent non-US citizens from seeing the insides of space vehicles containing technology or equipment under the jurisdiction of ITAR.

It’s a national security “thing”.

It’s funny how rules and regulations get in the way of things, but this is possibly the worst time for the issue to crop up. US companies are already promoting and selling their tickets for sub-orbital joyrides to international consumers, what if a British $200,000 ticket-holder turns up at their spaceplane, only for space border control to tell you to go home? Not so good for business is it? In fact, that’s the kind of thing that prevents you from doing business with international clients. To make it worse, potential European space tourism companies are marketing “ITAR-free” components and technologies, thereby creating untouchable competition.

However, despite the concern, I’m thinking there will be a few work-arounds for the ITAR. Key to the regulations is that ITAR covers tech and passengers. How about cutting out the “passengers” bit?

One of my favourite spaceflight companies, Bigelow Aerospace, has asked the same question and has been forward-thinking enough to lobby the government to change ITAR rules. “We think hardware should be [covered] under ITAR,” said Michael Gold, director of Bigelow Aerospace’s Washington office, “but passengers should be exempted.”

It would appear Congress needs some convincing that this particular ribbon of red tape needs to be cut.

Congress created a bigger problem than already existed,” said Rep. C.A. Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who oversees these regulations on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. Unless ITAR is reformed, space commercialization could shift toward China or Russia. However, a lot of committees are being consulted and paperwork is being re-shuffled to find a solution to this issue before real damage is done to a (potentially) revolutionary burgeoning industry in the US.

A balance between space commerce and national security needs to be found, without compromising either to international entities.

Source: Aviation Week

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6 responses to “Could US Space Tourism be Snuffed Out by Red Tape?

  1. Very cognitive article. The space tourism – very much interesting kind of tourism, but, unfortunately, for many inhabitants of a planet he expensively costs :)

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