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Law and the final frontier: Legal implications posed by commercial space tourism

Barnes, Michael (2013) Law and the final frontier: Legal implications posed by commercial space tourism. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Companies including Virgin Galactic, Rocketship Tours, Space Adventures, Benson Dream Chaser, and EADS Astrium now plan to charter private individuals to outer space. Virgin Galactic, in particular, is set to begin carrying paying passengers to the edge of space in 2014, with more than 600 ‘future astronauts’ having reserved their place on board SpaceShipTwo for the two-and-a-half hour, US$250,000 experience. This enthusiasm is expected to grow, with early estimates from the United States Federal Aviation Administration and consulting firm, Futron Corporation, projecting that suborbital space tourism will generate between 10,000 and 15,000 passengers per year by 2021.

The rise of commercial space tourism demands legal certainty. This is not, however, found in the existing body on international space law – while the motivation of space travel has changed, the treaties governing space travel have not, leaving ambiguity and a need for reform. Indeed, the increasing reality of commercial space tourism creates a number of legal problems; notably, highlighting uncertainty as to: whether (and to what extent) the duties of rescue and return apply to commercial ventures; the standard of the obligation to return personnel; the extent of States’ capacity to assert jurisdiction in outer space; and, the issue of which legal rules apply to the flight of aerospace objects (being objects that are capable of travelling through outer space, and of using their aerodynamic properties to move in airspace).

This paper seeks to identify some key limitations of the existing legal regime and to provide recommendations on how States can best develop the law of outer space in order to meet the demand for the proper regulation of tourism-related activities. Certainly, action is required if the body of international outer space law is to remain relevant in the coming decades.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Law
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Finlay, Lorraine
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