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Legal aspects of space tourism

Space tourism can be defined as travel to space at orbital or suborbital levels by private
individuals for recreation or scientific research. Tracing its roots to The Cold War era, the
first space tourist Dennis Tito an American entrepreneur spent about 8 days in 2001 aboard
Soyuz TM-32 costing him about $20 million. This tour to International Space Station was
arranged by Virginia based Space Adventures, the same company which has sent all the
seven space tourists in partnership with Russia's Federal Space Agency which sent the first
man to space. But a lesser known fact is that an eighth passenger, Japanese businessman
Daisuke Enomoto was dropped from the mission causing him a loss of around $ 21 million
without receiving a refund. Space Adventures lawyers said the cause of his failure to fly
was medical disqualification, not lack of authority and Enomotos contract did not entitle him
to a refund if he became medically disqualified.

By this day a number of private ventures have been initiated by various corporations into the
field of space tourism. Virgin Galactic a venture of Virgin group has signed 800 prospective
space tourists and will be using a winged rocket plane, SpaceShipTwo, successor to
SpaceShipOne, which won the Ansari X Prize worth $10 million in 2004, catalysing its
development. Blue Origin a project by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' is testing a vertical-
takeoff rocket with a six-passenger capsule for suborbital trips giving an experience of
weightlessness for a few minutes after the capsule separates from the booster. XCOR
Aerospace, based in Mojave, Calif., is building a two-person suborbital space plane called
Lynx, which is designed to take off and land on an airport runway. Space-x founded in 2002
by Elon Musk developed the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles, and the Dragon
spacecraft which is the only private spacecraft travelling to the International Space Station.

On October 31, 2014, VSS Enterprise crashed in the Mojave Desert, United States. The
vehicle in the accident was the first of the five SpaceShipTwo craft planned by Virgin
Galactic. SpaceShipTwo dropped from the mother ship and fired its new hybrid rocket engine
normally. 11 seconds later the plane violently broke apart creating a 35-mile (56 km) long
debris field. The co-pilot was killed in the crash, whereas the pilot, sustained serious injuries.
At a hearing in Washington the NTSB cited inadequate design safeguards, poor pilot training,
and lack of rigorous federal oversight as important factors in the 2014 crash.

Space exploration and travel has put similar pressure on the international body of law as the
rise of sea travel in 15th and 16th centuries and the rise of air travel did in the 20th century.
The recent developments in space tourism sector no doubt requires undivided attention of law
makers to formulate laws that can offer clear guidance and expected outcomes to the space
tourism industry. Existing space treaties were not designed to address commercial activities
but solely to control governmental use and exploration of outer space. As in the examples
above, a number of legal and regulatory concerns arise in relation to commercial space travel
and space tourism.
Primary legal aspect of space tourism is the imbrication between the public character of
international space law and private character of space tourism. Even though importance of
private companies, governed by concepts of state responsibility, state liability and space
treaties increased, it never reached to the need of a private international law. The objective of
this paper is to discuss some key legal aspects of authorization, supervision, liability and
registration, which need to incorporate while drafting such a framework. Also the convention
proposed being a matter of private international law shall include certain other internal
conventions governing other aspects of space tourism.
The paper discusses existing treaties and their relevance to space tourism further finding the
inadequacies in it answering questions with regard to the issues in airspace sharing and outer
space laws, authorization mechanism for space tourism, aircraft registrations and liability
towards passengers and third parties. When examining these legal aspects, the paper will
evaluate whether the current legal regime can handle the emerging space tourism industry
and if there is a need for a new international convention and if required how and what issues
shall be addressed?

Space tourism being a big leap in both space and tourism industry and a matter of both public
and private international law needs adequate framework to regulate its activities as law
should be dynamic and grow with inevitable legal disputes.