Is America Too Bound by Red Tape to Support Space Entrepreneurs?

“As the test flights continue, so do disputes between SpaceX and the FAA.

“Unlike its aircraft division, which is fine, the FAA space division has a fundamentally broken regulatory structure,” Musk protested before the SN9 launch. “Their rules are meant for a handful of expendable launches per year from a few government facilities. Under those rules, humanity will never get to Mars.”

The SpaceX founder isn’t alone in pointing out that regulators haven’t kept up with the times when it comes to the changing nature of ventures into space.

“The era of commercial space travel and the rise of abundant spacefaring nations has led to an increase in space activity, which has outpaced international space laws—laws that were originally imagined for state-sponsored space travel in an arena with only two spacefaring states,” Juan Davalos wrote in a 2015 article for Emory International Law Review.

“Existing space law has not kept up with the growth in the private sector, and the United States lacks a comprehensive regulatory regime,” Brianna Rauenzahn, Jasmine Wang, Jamison Chung, Peter Jacobs, Aaron Kaufman, and Hannah Pugh chimed in last summer in the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s The Regulatory Review.

Worse, the regulatory regime that the U.S. does have, inherited from an era of government-dominance of space, lends itself (as do all intrusive rules) to abuse. That can come from “you will respect mah authoritah” resentment of anybody who bucks bureaucracy. But it can also reflect government seat warmers’ discomfort with the unfamiliar and threatening world of private entrepreneurial activity.”

“even the FAA’s political masters recognize that the agency needs to change. The FAA is under orders “to streamline the regulations governing commercial space launch and reentry licensing” under rulemaking that “replaces prescriptive requirements with performance-based criteria.”

But there’s no assurance that “streamline” means easing regulation rather than making it more restrictive.”

The Israeli-Arab Extraterrestrial Accords

“The Abraham Accords, signed September 15, formally normalized Israel’s relationship with both Bahrain and United Arab Emirates. While geopolitical concerns have dominated both the substance of the accords and media coverage of the deal, the signatories also pledged a “common interest in establishing and developing mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes,” which may include “joint programs, projects, and activities.

Both Israel and the United Arab Emirates have thriving space programs. The Israeli Space Agency, founded in 1982, has launched a number of satellites—most notably, in 2019, the Beresheet Lander to the moon. Co-designed and built by the Israeli companies SpaceIL and Israeli Aerospace Industries, Beresheet was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and made it all the way to the Moon for less than $100 million dollars.

Unfortunately, the Beresheet lander crashed into the lunar surface due to a mechanical error. Still, the fact that the Israeli Space Agency was able to get that close is significant. The only other nations who have been able to get that close to the lunar surface are the Americans, the Chinese, and the Russians.

The Emirati space program is significant too. Currently rocketing its way from Earth to Mars is the Al-Amal (Arabic for “Hope”) satellite, which launched in July. It is expected to arrive in February, when it will begin to investigate Martian weather patterns.

It is too soon to know how the accord will affect the two space programs. But on August 17, before the Abraham Accords were signed, Israeli Minister of Science and Technology Izhar Shay said that cooperation was “imminent” and that “[t]he infrastructure is there for the commercial engagements for the sharing of know-how and mutual efforts.””