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ICAO to determine framework for safe space flights

Sept. 22, 2014, Montreal - 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.


September 22, 2014
By Reuters

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 missions .

"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.

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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 space travel.

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?"

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.