Space pioneers battle for greater freedom
Civilian space flight companies are this week pressing the US government to change strict arms-control rules that could cripple their nascent industry.
At issue are the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which are supposed to prevent technological secrets ending up in the hands of 21 proscribed nations, including China, Iran and North Korea. If a technology appears on a document called the US Munitions List, companies need a licence to export it or to reveal details to a foreign national. Even if granted, the licence often forces the firm to mount a security guard on the system while it is in another country.
The list contains very broad definitions of what should be kept secret, and even includes spacecraft hatches and windows. “That list is written for a cold war world,” says Mike Gold of Bigelow Aerospace in Washington DC, which plans to fly crewed inflatable habitats in Earth orbit. “Any space technology, no matter how benign, such as a solar panel or the table you support a craft on in the workshop, is covered by it.”
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