aviation body to mull space safety as space taxis ready for flight
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[September 20, 2014]
By Allison Lampert
MONTREAL (Reuters) - The United Nation's
civil aviation body, currently wrestling with how to help airlines
maintain safety over conflict zones, is taking first steps toward
protection for commercial vessels in space.
Commercial space travel took a big leap this week after the U.S.
space agency NASA awarded a combined $6.8 billion to Boeing and
Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, to build commercially
owned and operated "space taxis" to fly astronauts to the
International Space Station. The NASA contract allows Boeing to sell
rides to tourists; SpaceX already planned to offer trips to
tourists, but did not say if it would fly tourists on its NASA
"We’re starting to look at (suborbital space travel) more closely,"
said a representative on the International Civil Aviation
Organization's (ICAO) governing council who spoke to Reuters on
condition of anonymity.
Montreal-based ICAO will hold its first conference on issues related
to commercial space travel in early 2015 and will discuss whether it
should expand its governance to include oversight of suborbital
ICAO has come under criticism for not warning of the risks to
commercial aircraft over conflict zones after a Malaysian airline
was downed over eastern Ukraine in July, killing all 298 people
aboard. The 191-member agency is not responsible for opening or
closing airspace, a task left to individual states.
Industry experts said ICAO, which promotes the development of global
civil aviation including air transport standards, should play a role
in planning for the retrieval of space debris, for instance, at a
time when private enterprise is eyeing the final frontier.
"People have just begun to think about it, but how it is to be
instituted is not clear yet,” said Prashant Sukul, India's
representative on ICAO’s governing council. "If it's not ICAO, then
who is it going to be?"
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Sukul, one of a handful of representatives hoping to replace
retiring secretary general Raymond Benjamin in 2015, said he is
campaigning on a "space platform."
Discussion aimed at broadening ICAO’s mandate is in initial stages
and could take years to apply. Sukul acknowledged the challenge
space represents for an agency that can take years to tackle key
issues on Earth.
After a Korean airliner was shot down in 1983 by the Soviet Union,
it took 15 years for an amendment to be added to ICAO’s founding
articles - the Chicago convention - that said states should not
shoot down civilian airliners.
(Reporting by Allison Lampert; Editing by Amran Abocar and Leslie
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