Swedish Spaceport awaits government go-ahead

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An investigation into the national legislative needs of Spaceport Sweden has concluded that Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo could be treated as a sounding rocket.

Spaceport Sweden is now waiting to hear from its government's commerce ministry on whether current domestic aviation and sounding rocket law are sufficient to allow commercial spaceline Virgin Galactic to operate. A decision is due by year-end.

In January 2007 Virgin Galactic named Sweden's northernmost city, Kiruna, as the location of its first European spaceport. The small, remote city is home to Swedish Space's (SSC) Esrange Space Centre, as well as Icehotel, a hotel made from blocks of compacted snow and ice.

SSC and Icehotel are partners in Spaceport Sweden, along with Kiruna Arena Arctica airport's operator Luftfartsverket and local development company Progressum.

spaceshiptwo 
 © Virgin Galactic

After a study into legal options, SSC has argued that the intra-atmospheric portion of the flight could be dealt with under aviation rules and that the "space" part could use sounding rocket law passed in 1964. Sweden's space law, passed in 1982, incorporates the UN Outer Space Treaty, but does not include sounding rockets because of the 1964 Act.

SPACE LAW RESEARCH

SSC research into the status of space law in Europe concluded that there was nothing comparable with the US body that oversees suborbital tourism, the Federal Aviation Administration's office of commercial space transport, and that the European Aviation Safety Agency does not focus on spaceflight. The organisation is not confident that an EASA office of commercial space transport could be created in time.

Should the commerce ministry decide that existing law is insufficient, SSC's target in-service date - early in the next decade - could be jeopardised. Elections are due in September 2010, and a change of government might complicate the task of passing new legislation.

The Virgin Galactic project has already been hit by delays. Commercial suborbital flights are scheduled to launch in 2010, three years later than the original date. The initial flights will operate from Spaceport America, to be built in New Mexico. The request for proposals for that spaceport's construction contract were published in September.