UK to Ease Liability Regs on Space Tourism, Now Needs Weather Machine

Reports out of the cloud shrouded island of Britain indicate that the government wants to easy liability laws that have discouraged space tourism companies from operating out of the United Kingdom:

The 1986 Outer Space Act is the primary piece of legislation in Britain governing all matters to do with space activity. Commentators have long called for it to be updated, especially in relation to the liabilities that cover space operations – if there was an accident involving a British spacecraft, for example.

At the moment, liabilities are essentially unlimited and this makes insurance premiums much more expensive for UK companies than their international competitors.

[Chancellor George] Osborne has instructed the UK Space Agency to assess how this situation can be changed.

He also wants the licensing clarified for emerging space tourism companies, such as Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture. They will use vehicles that are part-aeroplane and part-rocket, and it is felt the Act needs to be adjusted to cover their unique status. Until that reform is made, commentators say, space tourism companies may be reluctant to base themselves in Britain.

The announcement, which was accompanied with a pledge of more funding for the space program, set champagne corks popping in Scotland, where plans are in the works for a spaceport at a former air force base:

The decision forms a key part of a new space strategy drawn up by Science Minister David Willetts that envisages the UK as “the European centre for space tourism” and sees £10m invested in the commercialisation of new space technologies.

“RAF Lossiemouth [Inverness] has the location, facilities and infrastructure for space tourism flights and the potential to become the European centre for space tourism,” the Government said.

Potential, sure. Virgin Galactic has expressed interest in flying SpaceShipTwo from the base in the future, although the company has given no public indication of any written deal to do so. Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn, a Scotsman, seemed to be the most enthusiastic about the prospects of flying from his native land. However, he stepped down in December.

The other potential problem: the UK’s notoriously foul weather. For space tourism, you need places with a lot of clear weather — such as the New Mexican desert. Seeing the curvature of the Earth from space is amazing, but a client paying $200,000 wants to look down on something other than cloud cover. Would they have enough clear days to make space tourism operations out of Lossiemouth cost effective?

Perhaps the UK should invest some of that £10m ($16 million) for new space technologies in a weather machine.