Awaiting UK space tourism rules

What's news about calls for updated British commercial space law? Here in "the colonies," for a while now we've been expecting some hot action over in the UK on space tourism regulation.

But last week the Telegraph's science (not law) correspondent Richard Gray filed the nice but not exactly news-intensive item,
Ministers order review of space law. He reports that UK science minister Ian Pearson "asked the British National Space Centre to produce a consultation on updating the Outer Space Act 1986."

Here's the whole newsflash:

A trip into outer space may seem a good way to escape everyday life on Earth, but British space tourists will find that while they might defy gravity, there is to be no getting away from the law.

Ministers have ordered a review of an obscure piece of legislation controlling the UK's activities in space. They believe that when Virgin Galactic and other companies begin offering public flights into space, rules will be needed to control the industry and the behaviour of British subjects in orbit.

New regulations are expected to deal with criminal offences in space, to ban dumping of waste and to prevent damage to Mars and the moon.

Virgin Galactic hopes to begin commercial flights by early 2009. Ahead of that, Ian Pearson, the science minister, has asked the British National Space Centre to produce a consultation on updating the Outer Space Act 1986.

Fair enough. (Apart from that reference to UK's existing space law as an "obscure piece of legislation." We beg your pardon!) The article doesn't indicate the venue or occasion which may have prompted Pearson to made the statement.

In any case, yes, we know. So what are they waiting for?

Meanwhile, over the UK space policy side, we see a lot of action underway and documents orbiting. As I reported, the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee in July issued its space policy report entitled,
2007: A Space Policy, which naturally included a section addressing space tourism. And in October, as expected, the government published its response to the Science and Technology Committee Report on space.

The space policy report states:
61. We are excited by the potential afforded by sub-orbital travel and the rise of the space tourism industry. We do not believe that it is the responsibility of Government to fund this work but developments in this area should be encouraged through appropriate regulation. The BNSC should use its consultation on regulation to discuss the establishment of a regulatory framework and responsible body with the relevant authorities. We recommend that the Government continues its policy of non-financial support to the space tourism industry and that it outline the developing nature of that support in the forthcoming space strategy. (Paragraph 334)

And in its response, the government specifies:

The Government agrees with this Recommendation and is keen to explore the commercial opportunities for the UK offered by this new emerging field as well as to develop a suitable regulatory regime for it. It has had preliminary discussions with FAA colleagues in the USA with a view to understanding their approaches. It will be seeking views on the approach to space tourism in the public consultation relating to the review of the Outer Space Act (OSA) regulatory approach.
There you have it.

Good start.

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IMAGE: Courtesy Virgin Galatic. Cheers!

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