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Space Government United States

XCOR COO Warns That Proposed State Department Rule Could Cripple Space Tourism 105

Posted by Soulskill
from the pie-in-the-sky dept.
MarkWhittington writes "Andrew Nelson, the chief operating officer of XCOR Aerospace, a company that proposes to take paying customers on suborbital jaunts on its Lynx rocketplane, posted some good news/bad news concerning some proposed rule changes from the State Department on June 3, 2013. On the good news side, the Department of State has proposed changes (PDF) that would move satellites from the Department of Defense's Munitions list, where they have been since 1999, to the Department of Commerce's commerce control list. 'This is a great step for the industry. Since the time commercial satellites were placed on the munitions list in 1999, the commercial satellite industry was almost wiped out.' On the bad news side, the State Department proposes to place commercial manned spacecraft on the DOD munitions list, making it very difficult if not impossible to fly them outside the United States. 'This is the same backward path provided to the US satellite manufacturing and launch community two decades ago that almost decimated that industry.'"
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XCOR COO Warns That Proposed State Department Rule Could Cripple Space Tourism

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  • It is obvious. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by flayzernax (1060680) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @03:56PM (#43907827)

    That one person or very few people in our government are exerting almost complete totalitarian control over what goes up and comes down from space.

    This is patently UN American. It is the antithesis to the spirit of freedom and exploration.

    Can we please take this power away from these few individuals and at least tie it up in bureaucratic red tape so we can build an industry to lobby for its control later on before we miss this golden opportunity...

    Oh well. Screw it. It never was about science, tech, or enlightenment (despite the all seeing eye being on everything), always politics, greed, and fear.

    • by dpidcoe (2606549) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @04:15PM (#43907995)

      This is patently UN American. It is the antithesis to the spirit of freedom and exploration.

      Can we please take this power away from these few individuals and at least tie it up in bureaucratic red tape so we can build an industry to lobby for its control later on before we miss this golden opportunity...

      Yeah! Someone should form a committee to investigate these un-american activities.

      • Re:It is obvious. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by flayzernax (1060680) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @04:22PM (#43908045)

        Or at least we should make a Department of Space Transportation. Unrelated to Homeland Security. It could still be under the executive branch, and Civil.

        The only reasoning behind this crazy system I can envision is NORAD and Russia's counterpart. Not wanting to ever see launches without them being scheduled over DEFCON type situations.

        Still munititions is way overboard for a manned space mission. It is laughable.

        Or just extend international maritime law into space. We have other treaties as well. I don't think they stipulate issues like this. In fact the ruling is probably to play into the wording of those treaties deliberately.

        • Re:It is obvious. (Score:4, Informative)

          by AmiMoJo (196126) * <.ten.3dlrow. .ta. .ojom.> on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @06:19PM (#43909049) Homepage

          It's because people are worried that US space technology will get to Iran or North Korea. Even though both those countries already have space programmes there is no reason to accelerate them.

          For the US classifying stuff as a munition is just a way to control its export, like they did with strong encryption for years.

          • For the US classifying stuff as a munition is just a way to control its export, like they did with strong encryption for years.

            Yeah, because that totally worked. Thanks to our heroic and ever-vigilant government doing its very best to hamper the free exchange of ideas, nobody outside the USA has ever had strong encryption. I can't tell you how much safer I feel.

            • I agree I'm not that worried about munitions specifically designed to carry people. That can be worded into the regs at the very least and made permissible. Someone else made the valid argument that "yes a bomb could be carried on one" and "planes can be munitions". That is a very valid point.

              However this requires economics. And we can limit "export" to specific countries such as NK, not the entire world and outer space.

        • Or at least we should make a Department of Space Transportation. Unrelated to Homeland Security. It could still be under the executive branch, and Civil.

          We already have a Department of Transportation, which is where any regulatory agency for space flight belongs. The key is to start thinking of space travel as, you know, transportation rather than something new and different and scary. Unfortunately, it seems like we're still stuck with IN SPAAACE slapped onto things, kind of like ON THE INTERNET. Only with even less excuse, since the internet was still purely theoretical when Sputnik was launched, and barely a glimmer when Apollo 11 landed.

          But you can g

      • I would like to state at this time that I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the US State Department...

        • I get your point. I don't advocate which hunts either. So I apologize if I came off that way. Just that this seems disproportionate and not in our best interest.

          • Actually, I agree with your point entirely. I don't know about dpidcoe, but my post was meant in jest.

      • by istartedi (132515)

        I think this might be a reference to HUAC [wikipedia.org] that flew over some people's heads. We shouldn't allow references to do that without approval.

        • Not intentional. But if you really want to go off the deep end. Mr Skull and Bones from the Forbes pedigree has friends in the UN. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureau_of_United_Nations_Affairs [wikipedia.org]

          Again unintentional. And yes I saw the 1950's cartoon about un American vs American values. And how its all our differences of opinion that make us unique little special buttercups in a melting pot and that we shouldn't single out individual opinions... etc..

          But if you realize, that http://www.ted.com/talks/lawrence_l [ted.com]

          • by istartedi (132515)

            My comment was directed at dpidcoe (2606549) who appeared to be implying that your suggestion might lead to another HUAC and/or a repeat of McCarthyism. Interesting side note, the Wiki article explains that McCarthy was never actually a part of HUAC.

            Anyway, I'm not interested in going down the UN rabbit hole discussion right now...

      • by Ecuador (740021)

        Don't worry, this time it will be ok, just don't put in charge anyone from the military or any polititian. Choose someone simple and well known, e.g. a TV personality like Jenny McCarthy!

      • Who could profit from such a law? Maybe Boeing?

        Just a thought, but what would a 3D Printer solution applied to this become?
    • Re:It is obvious. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @04:25PM (#43908057)

      That one person or very few people in our government are exerting almost complete totalitarian control over what goes up and comes down from space.

      This is patently UN American. It is the antithesis to the spirit of freedom and exploration.

      Can we please take this power away from these few individuals and at least tie it up in bureaucratic red tape so we can build an industry to lobby for its control later on before we miss this golden opportunity...

      Oh well. Screw it. It never was about science, tech, or enlightenment (despite the all seeing eye being on everything), always politics, greed, and fear.

      You should stop and think who benefits and who gets hurt by this new restriction. One only has to look at which DOD contractors are also involved with space flight to answer that question.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        It sounds like the rest of the world is going to benefit the most. Russia is already well ahead in space tourism but it did look for a while like the US was about to catch up and overtake it. It will be interesting to see what happens to Virgin Galactic, since they are EU/UK based.

        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

          It sounds like the rest of the world is going to benefit the most. Russia is already well ahead in space tourism but it did look for a while like the US was about to catch up and overtake it. It will be interesting to see what happens to Virgin Galactic, since they are EU/UK based.

          As long as Russia or Virgin Galactic or anybody else aren't using patents or technology that is now considered classified for national security reasons by the DOD and they have to find new ways to accomplish it. Look how long it took Boeing to reengineer their battery problem. How long would it take to do that for a space craft and get it re-certified? If the US has fallen behind, the front runners only have to be delayed long enough to allow the US to catch back up.

    • Re:It is obvious. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortexNO@S ... t-retrograde.com> on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @04:25PM (#43908059) Homepage

      Unsurprisingly, also addressed in Planetes. [animenewsnetwork.com] Space terrorists believed the unfair regulations against lesser nations were being used to the economic and political gain of the more powerful nations while creating an even wider gulf between more and less powerful nations.

      TLDNW: When you look down on our precious blue planet from space, there are no borders.

      All the politics, greed, and fear in the Universe is dwarfed by the vulnerability of the planet, and our need for progress outside our home among the stars in order to protect it and thus all life in this corner of the cosmos. If that progress be spurned by power and greed, so be it. If cautiousness is not minded proportionate to the risk, we stand more to loose than a few years of progress. I say let the small space satellites and shuttles advance. Just like nuclear weapons, if the enemy were to bombard us with mass from orbital platforms, then so will we be able to.

      Mutually assured destruction sounds evil, but when I think about it, that's all we've ever had since before the first tribe of man came to trust their members. The only way to gain trust and prosper as a species is to cautiously operate in the same spaces of technology and industry; To shake hands and mutually cause any hidden knives to fall from our sleeves; To become more interdependent on each other; To cautiously take equal risks while never loosing sight of the worlds all mankind is charged to protect.

      It's easy to dismiss such caution as irrational fear, corrupt greed, and political control. The truth is that right now we only have one world. One basket carries all our eggs at present. I would say extreme cautiousness is warranted, but should be proscribed according to actual risk, not perceived threat. If we can not take the risk of shaking hands with those we feel threatened by, they can never prove non threatening and can never become our friends. The more self sustaining footholds life wins itself in the Universe, the more reckless we can be, the more progress we can take at risk.

      TLDR: Let's not throw caution to the wind and fuck it all up forever.

      • Thanks for the write up. I agree to some degree =). But I thought we were a democracy and that we would try to do this the democratic way. I suppose technically it is. But it does not "feel" like it.

    • by game kid (805301)

      It was never about enlightment. Sauron just wanted to get the government to use his all-seeing eye for royalties. It worked.

    • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @04:26PM (#43908073) Journal

      After all, it's Soyuz [wikipedia.org] that keeps the ISS manned, and Proton [wikipedia.org] that provides most of its supplies. No US components or technology (maybe some really ancient/proven stuff).

    • That one person or very few people in our government are exerting almost complete totalitarian control over what goes up and comes down from space.

      This is patently UN American.

      The IRS decides that only groups with leftist names can be considered non-profits.

      The DOJ decides that mexican drug lords can get all of the rifles we can ship to them while attempting to limit in any was possible U.S. citizen ownership and carrying of firearms.

      I'm not quite sure what makes you think one government group doing what al

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by saihung (19097)
        The IRS decides that only groups with leftist names can be considered non-profits.

        Except that isn't what happened. None of those groups were actually denied non-profit status. Meanwhile, when the Bush-era IRS did exactly the same thing to "leftist" groups, none of the current batch of tea bag imbeciles cared in the least. Sod 'em, they deserved the extra scrutiny. After all, they're all just astroturfers funded by the Koch brothers anyway.

        while attempting to limit in any was possible U.S. citizen owners

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by _Sharp'r_ (649297)

          None of those groups were actually denied non-profit status

          Having your tax exempt status held up for years while they hassle you any way they can think of, asking for donor lists, copies of everything you publish, everyone who's ever worked for or with you, any other groups you associate with, etc... so that you can be discouraged from doing anything and your efforts can be delayed beyond election dates is a total abuse of power. Especially while similar, but left-wing groups are sailing through and other O

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Can we please take this power away from these few individuals and at least tie it up in bureaucratic red tape so we can build an industry to lobby for its control later on before we miss this golden opportunity...

      it's a bummer for the USA, but space projects will just move to africa or brazil or some other place more equatorial.

  • Virgin Intergalactic (Score:4, Interesting)

    by intermodal (534361) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @03:57PM (#43907831) Homepage Journal

    Does this mean Virgin Intergalactic will be offshoring their operation, like what happened with RSA when the government pressured them on crypto?

    • No doubt. Belize and the Yucatan would work very well. The hard part will be getting the research and data out now, unless it was stored offshore to begin with.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by intermodal (534361)

        This is presently just a proposed rule. If Branson moves quickly, he can do whatever he pleases within the present rules.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      No, it means they couldn't off-shore.

      The vehicles are all designed and built in the US and couldn't be legally exported without a license. The plans for them couldn't be exported. The engineers couldn't even talk to any none US citizen about them. This could cause real problems for Virgin even if they fly only in the US, since they are a UK company.

      Unless they started completely over and designed and built a vehicle entirely outside the US, they would need an (expensive and time consuming) export license

      • This is a proposal at this point, not an active rule. If I were Branson, I'd get moving.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        SpaceShip One is just a starter proposal - all he ever wants out of it is to cover his costs.

        When you really start getting tourism going you're going to need something bigger. Something like SKYLON...which IS 100% British...

        http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/space_skylon.html

      • by Hadlock (143607)

        SpaceX was founded in 2002. In 10 years they had designed and built two different rockets (Falcon 1, Falcon 9) and three (soon to be four) different production revisions of their engine. Their total R&D cost was under a billion dollars.

        Given what's known about SpaceX's manufacturing techniques it's not at all implausible that Mexico or Brazil would start up their own state sponsored orbital company. The rest of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) already have their own highly active space progra

  • by gl4ss (559668) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @03:58PM (#43907839) Homepage Journal

    because otherwise, aren't the facilities for american space tourist corps inside usa?

    (on another note, space tourism has been subject of pop sci type of magazine articles for some fifteen years now.. and all companies that could put something to orbit have more lucrative payloads)

    • by SirGarlon (845873)
      I'm not a lawyer or anything, but I'm pretty sure orbit does count as outside the boundaries of the United States and therefore "export." The Eisenhower administration insisted that satellites overflying and spying on the Soviet Union were not violating Soviet sovereign territory, and that's now a precedent that's been in place for > 50 years. I infer that space is similar to international waters, from a legal point of view.
      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        No one cares about sovereign territory. It all comes down to taxes. The government does nothing if not collect taxes. During Apollo 13, Jack Swigert was allowed a 60-day extension on filing his income taxes as the IRS had determined he was out of the country when they were due.
    • According to the article satellites currently are counted as munitions and they end up in orbit so, regardless of how US law deals with it, it must be possible to launch "munitions" into orbit. My guess is that the problem will occur when you try to land after achieving orbit: you will need to land back i the US. However, since Virgin Galactic just gets you to the boundary of space and back without achieving orbit, the only human orbital capability at the moment is russian.
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        According to the article satellites currently are counted as munitions and they end up in orbit so, regardless of how US law deals with it, it must be possible to launch "munitions" into orbit.

        As I understand it, you can launch them on US rockets from US launch sites, or you can buy them from a non-US company and launch them on non-US rockets from non-US launch sites, or you can spend large amounts of time and money to get permission to launch US satellites on a non-US rocket from a non-US launch site.

      • by tibman (623933)

        It does seem silly to put tourists inside munitions and launch them at the sky though.

  • Is still an ICBM.

    captcha: culpable

  • Take'm down! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by canadiannomad (1745008) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @04:12PM (#43907955) Homepage

    Once again the US trying to enforce laws outside of its jurisdiction...

    So my question is what would they do about it? Shoot down a rocket with 12 rich blokes on a joy ride into space? I would be interested in how the media would cover that...

    I actually don't mind the DOD being interested in such vessels, but they likely they need to (re-)assess its internal processes into how it will track, monitor and authorize vessels heading into space.

    • Re:Take'm down! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by kaiser423 (828989) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @04:21PM (#43908035)

      Well, considering that the US DOD is just about the only agency that tracks everything into orbit (other than Russia but we cooperate and share significantly with them, so it's about the same) pretty much everyone has to ask their permission first. Otherwise they risk slamming into some piece of space debris, micro satellite or other very bad thing. The Europeans have a pretty good system now, but they don't track as many objects or as many small objects as the US does.

      So, really it's about practicality. No insurer and no sane person would put a space plane into orbit without first checking with the DOD that that orbit was safe. Given that most launches I've been party to have had to have their orbit adjusted some either in launch time or actual orbital trajectories due to the potential for collisions, I think that they would have a really, really hard time getting any insurance or any sane person to sign on if the DOD wasn't going to vet the trajectory before launch. Sure, a satellite could risk it, but not an orbital space tourism plane with people on board.

      • You make a really good point why we need a process for this. (I still laugh at 'munitions') being used as the terminology in the article. You would think all the people who have a very vested interest in the stuff they have in orbit would want to ensure the safety of their property. That probably plays quite a bit into it.

        That does not lessen the safety that others would want for the tourists.

      • Very good points, thanks for the insight!

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        Well, considering that the US DOD is just about the only agency that tracks everything into orbit (other than Russia but we cooperate and share significantly with them, so it's about the same) pretty much everyone has to ask their permission first. Otherwise they risk slamming into some piece of space debris, micro satellite or other very bad thing. The Europeans have a pretty good system now, but they don't track as many objects or as many small objects as the US does.

        So, really it's about practicality. No insurer and no sane person would put a space plane into orbit without first checking with the DOD that that orbit was safe. Given that most launches I've been party to have had to have their orbit adjusted some either in launch time or actual orbital trajectories due to the potential for collisions, I think that they would have a really, really hard time getting any insurance or any sane person to sign on if the DOD wasn't going to vet the trajectory before launch. Sure, a satellite could risk it, but not an orbital space tourism plane with people on board.

        That seems like awfully bad publicity for the US -- "India launched it's first space plane today, which was quickly annihilated with the loss of all on board after slamming into a secret US satellite. When asked for comment the US DoD said 'Well yeah, they asked if it was safe, but since we don't want other countries launching people into space without our permission, we wouldn't tell them that they were going to run into it.'"

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      No, of course not. And there would be no need for anything like that. All they have to do is arrest those who launched the craft and confiscate their equipment, same as any other violation. That would end it pretty fast (and the space tourism companies know that, so they wouldn't bother trying).

      What I think is absurd about this is when properly managed, it really shouldn't be much different from the commercial airline industry. I mean, several aircraft were used as munitions already, does that mean the

      • I hope you realize I was talking in jest about taking them down....

        Regardless I totally agree with you about it being very similar to the airline industry. I also totally agree that the DOD needs some involvement if only because it is one of the few agencies that actually knows most of what is up there.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If they donate to the DNC the government will celebrate them as heros.
      If they don't they will be the devil incarnate.

      Its basically gotten that the federal government is taking control of every aspect of life and if you are on the correct political side everything will be easy for you, otherwise you are an enemy of the state. This is just a warning to any company wanting to do space tourism to start donating or shut your doors.

    • by thrich81 (1357561)

      To all the uninformed -- being on the State Dept's Munition's List just means that the US will not allow US developed technology to be exported without a license. The US Government has no issue with items or technology developed by OTHER countries which fill the same function. So anyone in Canada, Russia, Somalia, whatever, is free to develop their own commercial manned spacecraft and launch them as much as they want, unaffected at all by this State Dept decision. They just can't do it using US parts or

    • Once again the US trying to enforce laws outside of its jurisdiction...

      How exactly? These laws cover US corporations, operations on US soil, and/or launching from US territory. On top of that, by international law, such vehicles remain the responsibility of the US government. So, while you've quoted a popular meme, that's about the end of your intellectual accomplishments.

      So my question is what would they do about it? Shoot down a rocket with 12 rich blokes on a joy ride into space? I would be in

      • Why don't you read the rest of my comments in this thread before going all high and mighty?

        • The rest of your comments are irrelevant - I'm addressing the vast ignorance and stupidity in this one. (Not that your other comments are much better,)

  • But how to you orbit within the United States? Or are we claiming all of space now?
    • You'd have to go straight to geostationary, without using a transfer orbit. Doable in theory, but much less efficient.

  • to see how many people seem to believe that proposed rules are already in effect. Please read the article a bit more carefully, guys.

    That said, this rule really shows how crazy the US government has gotten.

    • I'm not sure how this proposition works. Is it something that needs to go before congress to be voted on in the house and senate? Who submits it? The Secretary of State? If thats a case it makes a lot more sense. But they really should think about better wording and more specifics about civilian passengers on vessels. Vs munitions and technology export issues.

      If you have a sea vessel with a radar system. Is it subject to ITAR if it is mounted on the vessel for operation and you are not trading it or transpo

      • If it's anything like other "regulations" in the United States, Congress won't really be involved at all, and if they are, it will just be a quick consent. Thanks to the creation of countless agencies with "regulatory" power granted by congress, rules with the force of law seem to be created all the time without properly being legislated and debated by our elected officials. Not that they are good at doing so on most days...

        • Thanks =) In a way this is just a flop around of the previous regulations. It is good like the article mentioned for regular commercial satellites which are primarily launched by conventional tech. But could kill these guys developing these really nice spaceplanes. Which are part of what we need. I see this as a deliberate attempt to put technology back into someone else's hands and take it away from new entrepreneurs who were trying to fill the void left by the shuttle program.

  • The empire that keeps trade routes open prospers.

    The empire that lords over its own people falters, and a new core of empire forms on its outskirts.

    Retracting empire doesn't care if it's age-old dictatorship and corruption, or if it's gigatons of well-meaning regulation. Set that down in stone.

  • The Chinese or Russians will build them instead. They are capable of doing this and the American industry will sink.

    • by mark-t (151149)
      So what does that mean for the people who aren't in China or Russia or the USA?
      • by stevenh2 (1853442)

        They can export it. Unlike where, in the USA the export would be illegal.

        • by mark-t (151149)
          How do you export commercial space travel?
          • In soviet Russia it exports itself =)

            • by mark-t (151149)
              How... unhelpful.
              • I suppose much like airlines or cruise liners by births and terminals. And operate a small corporate headquarters from a foreign country. For space planes I see no real big issues with this. I would worry more about ICBM type launch systems.

                And I don't think putting one of these in the UK, Germany, France, would threaten America all that terribly. Or Australia even. So normal restrictions should apply. Basically anyone who is NATO. I think we should not classify "going into orbit" as exportation though if t

                • Japan would probably be another safe bet. Also even though they are right next door to the Evil Empire.

                  • Sorry for the triple post but these are countries we export military tech like fighter jets and possibly other more classified (nuclear?) stuff too.

  • by cstacy (534252)
    Maybe a company in some other country will implement Pretty Good Payload.
  • Restricting the export of rockets under export control makes sense when you think about how 90% of modern space rocketry in the US is ultimately derived from ICBM programs (the first Americans in space all went into orbit on modified Redstone, Atlas and Titan ICBMs)

  • This is very good news for the rest of the world. The best thing the USA has done to stimulate the foreign high tech industry was the ITAR law and now this. This is a great opportunity for us.
  • And if you're a PERSON who knows something about SPACECRAFT, you, too, will be considered a munition.

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