New Mexico-based Virgin Galactic, which now expects to fly its first paying customers in 2013, was told by the U.S. government that the company may fly non-U.S. citizens to the edge of space without first obtaining an export license from the State Department.
Virgin Galactic asked “that their operations be removed from the scope of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR),” Mark Sundahl, an associate professor of law at Cleveland State University in Ohio, told Space News in an April 10 phone interview. Early this year, the State Department announced “a favorable EAR99 ruling, which means that [Virgin Galactic’s] operations will not be ITAR-controlled.”
Virgin’s flight hardware, Sundahl added, would remain under export control. However, he said the determination was, on the whole, “good news for Virgin Galactic and the entire space tourism industry.”
Sundahl said that without this determination from State, allowing a non-U.S. citizen to ride in a Virgin spacecraft — or even training a non-U.S. citizen to do so — would legally have been an export activity that required federal approval. The time it takes to obtain an export license varies, but several months is a reasonable estimate, said Sundahl, who specializes in international commerce and space law.
Some very good news for Virgin Galactic and all of its other U.S.-based competitors. I guess Richard Branson and family will be able to fly on his company’s spaceship without dealing with ITAR.
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