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Private Company Requests for U.S. Clearance to Fly to Moon

U.S. officials appear poised to make history by approving the first private space mission to go beyond Earth’s orbit

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The Moon as seen from the Northern Hemisphere. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia commons
  • U.S. government agencies are working on temporary provisions to allow a private company to land a spacecraft on the moon next year
  • This request is a first of its kind, which is why USA does not have any established legal framework in these matters
  • Other countries are moving faster to establish rules for space launches in compliance with international treaties

U.S. government agencies are working on temporary provisions to allow a private company to land a spacecraft on the moon next year in 2017, while Congress weighs a more permanent legal framework to govern future commercial missions into Moon, Mars and other destinations beyond Earth’s orbit, officials said.

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The US Space Shuttle. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia commons

Plans by private companies to land spacecraft on the moon or launch them out of Earth’s orbit face legal obstacles because the United States has not put in place regulations to govern space activities, industry and government officials said.

“We do not have formal authority today to deal with what happens on orbit or on other planetary terrestrial bodies. That’s the issue we’re wrestling with,” said George Nield, head of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

“What is being looked at right now is a Band-Aid fix because the system is broken,” Nield said at an American Bar Association space law forum in Washington on Wednesday.

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A 1967 international treaty obliges the United States and other signatories to authorize and supervise extraterrestrial activities by its non-government entities. But no U.S. agency has authority to regulate commercial space activities outside of rocket launches, spacecraft re-entries into the atmosphere and operations of telecommunications and remote sensing satellites in Earth orbit.

The issue is coming to a head in part because of a request by Florida-based Moon Express for permission from the U.S. government to land a spacecraft on the moon in 2017. So far, only government agencies have flown satellites beyond Earth’s orbit.

“No commercial company has ever asked to go outside of Earth orbit and go elsewhere before. We’re a pathfinder out of necessity,” Moon Express Chief Executive Bob Richards said in an interview on Monday.

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Richards and Nield declined to comment on what specifically Moon Express is proposing.

Other countries are moving faster to establish rules for space launches in compliance with international treaties. Luxembourg last week announced it was partnering with two U.S. companies interested in mining asteroids and set aside 200 million euros to woo space firms to relocate. The United Arab Emirates also intends to serve as a commercial space haven.

“We don’t want to create an environment where there’s a competitive advantage for payloads to go overseas,” said space attorney Michael Gold, who chairs the FAA’s commercial space advisory panel.

-prepared by Saurabh Bodas (with inputs from Reuters), an intern at NewsGram. Twitter Handle: @saurabhbodas96

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US Researchers Redefine Conditions that Makes a Planet Habitable

The researchers also found that planets with thin ozone layers, which have otherwise habitable surface temperatures, receive dangerous levels of UV dosages

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Instruments, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope, have the capability to detect water vapor and ozone on a Planet. Pixabay

A team of US researchers has redefined the conditions that make a Planet habitable by taking the star’s radiation and the planet’s rotation rate into account – a discovery that will help astronomers narrow down the search around life-sustaining planets.

The research team is the first to combine 3D climate modeling with atmospheric chemistry to explore the habitability of planets around M dwarf stars, which comprise about 70 per cent of the total galactic population.

Among its findings, the Northwestern team, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, NASA’s Virtual Planet Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discovered that only planets orbiting active stars — those that emit a lot of ultraviolet (UV) radiation — lose significant water to vaporization.

Planets around inactive, or quiet, stars are more likely to maintain life-sustaining liquid water.

The researchers also found that planets with thin ozone layers, which have otherwise habitable surface temperatures, receive dangerous levels of UV dosages, making them hazardous for complex surface life.

“It’s only in recent years that we have had the modeling tools and observational technology to address this question,” said Northwestern’s Howard Chen, the study’s first author.

“Still, there are a lot of stars and planets out there, which means there are a lot of targets,” added Daniel Horton, senior author of the study. “Our study can help limit the number of places we have to point our telescopes”.

The research was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Horton and Chen are looking beyond our solar system to pinpoint the habitable zones within M dwarf stellar systems.

M dwarf planets have emerged as frontrunners in the search for habitable planets.

Planet
A team of US researchers has redefined the conditions that make a Planet habitable by taking the star’s radiation and the planet’s rotation rate into account. Pixabay

They get their name from the small, cool, dim stars around which they orbit, called M dwarfs or “red dwarfs”.

By coupling 3D climate modeling with photochemistry and atmospheric chemistry, Horton and Chen constructed a more complete picture of how a star’s UV radiation interacts with gases, including water vapor and ozone, in the planet’s atmosphere.

Instruments, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope, have the capability to detect water vapor and ozone on exoplanets. They just need to know where to look.

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“‘Are we alone?’ is one of the biggest unanswered questions,” Chen said. “If we can predict which planets are most likely to host life, then we might get that much closer to answering it within our lifetimes.” (IANS)