When Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two disintegrated over the skies of Southern California last week, killing one test pilot and injuring another, it highlighted one of the fundamental problems facing space tourism—the lack of regulations governing the business of blasting paying members of the public into orbit.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration already has a minimal regulatory framework for commercial spaceflight. Companies have to get test permits, for example. But in an effort to spur on the development of the commercial space industry, Congress imposed a moratorium on burdening the fledgling sector with additional red tape back in 2004, with the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act. And in 2012, Congress extended the measure to October 1, 2015.
"It was believed that this would support the industry by not having regulations to act as barriers," said Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Space Law and visiting professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology School of Law. "The moratorium would be in place until a certain date or the event of the first death. Unfortunately, the first death has now occurred and the FAA will likely revisit the need for regulations, if any."