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Op-ed | Representing the private astronaut is a new step for human spaceflight — and for space lawyers

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A new era of human spaceflight was launched with Axiom Space’s Jan. 26 announcement of the four private astronauts it will send to the International Space Station early next year aboard a chartered SpaceX Crew Dragon flight. The next week, SpaceX announced the privately funded Inspiration4 mission that will carry four civilians to Earth orbit perhaps as soon as later this year.

The Axiom Ax-1 mission will be the first purely commercial mission to the ISS while the Inspiration4 mission will be the first all-civilian mission to Earth orbit. In addition to adding a new dimension for space travel, these missions create new challenges and opportunities for space lawyers — representing private astronauts, some of whom will spend the approximately $55 million estimated by industry sources for participating in the Ax-1 mission.

The Inspiration4 flight is the creation of Jared Issacman, a wealthy business owner and pilot who reportedly has paid for the entire mission and is donating the other three seats to selected individuals with the goal of raising $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. One of the seats will go to a St. Jude health care worker. One will be raffled to St. Jude donors. And one will be given to someone who uses Issacman’s Shift4 Payments platform to start an online business.

While the Inspiration4 flight is unique, the Ax-1 flight is the first in a series planned by Axiom. Ax-1 will be commanded by Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut now with Axiom. With him will be three multinational private astronauts and Axiom customers: Larry Connor of the United States, Mark Pathy of Canada and my client Eytan Stibbe of Israel. All will spend about eight days on the space station.

Axiom provides all the services needed by private astronauts including training, transportation, mission planning, hardware development, life and medical support, crew provisions, safety and hardware certifications, on-orbit operations, and overall mission management. In order to provide these services, Axiom has agreements with SpaceX for launch and Crew Dragon transportation to and from the ISS, and with NASA for accommodations on the ISS.

Axiom, and any other similar service providers, will enter into contracts with private astronauts for each mission. Axiom anticipates two missions per year, so there should be at least six private astronauts each year needing legal advice to navigate the complex web of national and international laws related to their contractual rights and obligations.

There are risks associated with every launch and reentry. Those risks are managed, to the extent possible, in many ways. Private astronauts face additional risks – contractual risks, that must also be identified, evaluated and managed, to the extent possible. That is the challenge for the lawyers representing private astronauts.

KEY LEGAL ISSUES

One of the key legal issues, and perhaps the one most familiar to those in the space industry, involves cross-waivers of liability. Many are generally familiar with the waivers applicable to the launch and reentry phases required by the Commercial Space Launch Act and implementing FAA regulations. NASA also has waivers applicable to activities related to the space station. Such waivers are part of the legal regime established by the Outer Space Treaty and other international obligations, including the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between the nations involved with the ISS and associated Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between NASA and cooperating space agencies. The IGA and MOUs provide details on use of the ISS, including commercial uses, such as private astronaut missions, and requirements for such uses. Waivers may also apply to terrestrial activities. For example, astronaut training entails certain risks. Those risks will be managed, at least in part, by cross-waivers. Additionally, states in which training, launch and reentry activities may be conducted likely will have their own waivers applicable to all “space flight participants.” In short, the web of potentially applicable cross-waivers is extensive and private astronauts need to understand what risks they are waiving and evaluate whether such risks can be managed by insurance or otherwise.

It’s important for potential private astronauts to understand the limitations that will apply to their mission. For example, private astronauts going to the ISS will be subject to the ISS Crew Code of Conduct, which establishes a chain of command, sets forth standards for activities, and extensively regulates those activities including what personal effects astronauts may carry to the ISS. They will also be subject to the NASA Interim Directive on the use of the ISS for Commercial and Marketing Activities. These regulations may limit the commercial activities in which private astronauts may want to engage.

What the private astronauts may do regarding research and other activities can be important for a variety of reasons. All the Ax-1 private astronauts will conduct scientific and educational activities on the ISS. For example, Eytan Stibbe will collaborate with the Israel Space Agency and the Scientific and Technology Ministry and donate his ISS time to educational and scientific projects on behalf of the Ramon Foundation. Larry Connor and Mark Pathy will also donate time for scientific and educational purposes to specific organizations. Attorneys should evaluate what, if any, tax advantages could be realized from such donations.

Delays are a fact of life in the space industry and the potential impacts of delays must be considered by the private astronauts and their lawyers. Given that the schedule for missions to the ISS could take years from contract formation to the flight, it’s important to understand how delays will be handled contractually. Delays would not just be inconvenient; they could cause the inability of a private astronaut to participate in a mission for a variety of reasons. Provisions for a backup or replacement astronaut ready to take the vacant seat and assume financial responsibility can mitigate the financial risks to the private astronaut who has paid millions but is unable to fly.

In addition to the above key issues, private astronaut agreements will need to address a host of issues including: medical and other qualifications; the price to be charged and payment terms; insurance for possible damage to ISS equipment for which the astronaut and his government might be responsible; the length of the agreement; conditions upon which the astronaut may receive a refund; the impact of force majeure events such as pandemics; rights to media; access to voice and video communications while on the ISS; the responsibilities of Axiom or another service provider; sponsorship; duties while on the ISS including, for example, galley and toilet operations; dispute resolution; events of default; and cure opportunities. As in most legal agreements, the devil is in the details. Lawyers will need to explore those details in great depth with their private astronaut clients.

Additionally, there may also be agreements between the private astronauts and third parties, such as supporting organizations involved in selecting experiments and other activities the private astronauts will conduct on orbit. These agreements must be coordinated with and consistent with the primary private astronaut agreement. Finally, each private astronaut will need to evaluate life insurance and potential exclusions.

In closing, Michael Suffredini and his Axiom team should be congratulated for pioneering this first all-commercial mission to the ISS. That team includes his lawyers who helped identify and address the legal challenges present in the complex contractual arrangements with private astronauts. And Mr. Isaacman is to be applauded for making Earth orbit accessible to the three individuals who will be lucky enough to fly with him.


Milton “Skip” Smith is a space lawyer with Sherman & Howard and is on the board of the International Institute of Space Law. Smith represented Israeli private astronaut Eytan Stibbe in contract negotiations with Axiom.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 15, 2021 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

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Source: https://spacenews.com/op-ed-representing-the-private-astronaut-is-a-new-step-for-human-spaceflight-and-for-space-lawyers/

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Virgin Galactic unveils new spaceship for its growing fleet

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Virgin Galactic has unveiled the company’s first SpaceShip III in its growing fleet, VSS Imagine.

The spaceship showcases Virgin Galactic’s innovation in design and astronaut experience. Imagine also demonstrates progress toward efficient design and production, as Virgin Galactic works to scale the business for the long-term.

VSS Imagine will commence ground testing, with glide flights planned for this summer from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The livery design, finished entirely with a mirror-like material, reflects the surrounding environment, constantly changing colour and appearance as it travels from earth to sky to space.

Leveraging a modular design, the SpaceShip III class of vehicles are built to enable improved performance in terms of maintenance access and flight rate. This third generation of spaceship will lay the foundation for the design and manufacture of future vehicles.

As VSS Imagine begins ground testing, manufacturing will progress on VSS Inspire, the second SpaceShip III vehicle within the Virgin Galactic fleet. The introduction of the SpaceShip III class of vehicles is an important milestone in Virgin Galactic’s multi-year effort that targets flying 400 flights per year, per spaceport.

VSS Imagine is unveiled ahead of VSS Unity’s next test flight, which is planned for May 2021.

Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, commented: “Today we unveiled our SpaceShip III class of vehicles, marking the beginning of the Virgin Galactic fleet. VSS Imagine and Inspire are stunning ships that will take our future astronauts on an incredible voyage to space, and their names reflect the aspirational nature of human spaceflight. Congratulations to our dedicated team who worked so brilliantly to achieve this milestone.”

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, added: “Virgin Galactic spaceships are built specifically to deliver a new, transforming perspective to the thousands of people who will soon be able to experience the wonder of space for themselves. As a SpaceShip III class of vehicle, Imagine is not just beautiful to look at, but represents Virgin Galactic’s growing fleet of spaceships. All great achievements, creations and changes start with an idea. Our hope is for all those who travel to space to return with fresh perspectives and new ideas that will bring positive change to our planet.”

www.virgingalactic.com

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Hexcel joins ASCEND project

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Hexcel joins ASCEND project

Hexcel has announced its role within the recently launched UK-based project called ASCEND (Aerospace and Automotive Supply Chain Enabled Development) that will focus on developing high-rate manufacturing and processing technologies that will accelerate the development of new, lightweight advanced composite materials.

The composites company will join lead partner GKN Aerospace and 13 other project stakeholders in a collaboration across the UK supply chain to develop the technologies and automation equipment required to manufacture lightweight, more fuel-efficient structures for sustainable air mobility, aerospace, and automotive industries.

Hexcel will contribute to the ASCEND project framework, developing a new HexPly fast cure prepreg system that will significantly reduce component processing times compared to existing aerospace prepregs.

In addition to its new fast curing prepreg technology, Hexcel’s range of Liquid Composite Moulding (LCM) products will be incorporated into the ASCEND project work packages. The project will use both HiTape advanced unidirectional dry carbon reinforcements and HiMax multiaxial non-crimp fabrics reinforcements.

The ASCEND project will allow Hexcel to collaborate with Tier 1 companies, engineers, tooling specialists, and production equipment OEMs to deliver both prepreg and liquid composite moulding solutions that meet both the performance targets and satisfy the processing requirements for high-rate automated manufacture.

The technical integration enabled by the ASCEND project partnerships will ensure a complete understanding of customer performance and processing needs, coupled with the opportunity to industrialize new technologies utilizing the extensive capabilities of GKN’s Global Technology Centre in Bristol.

Paul Mackenzie, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Hexcel, said “We are  proud to be part of the ASCEND program, and we look forward to working with other leading companies as we develop processes and materials that help to make the next generation of sustainable air mobility, aerospace, and automotive vehicles possible. This project offers the perfect platform for Hexcel to collaborate and further develop our HexPly, HiMax, and HiTape technologies.”

The ASCEND partners working alongside Hexcel include Assyst Bulmer, Airborne, Cobham Mission Systems Wimborne, Cygnet Texkimp, DES Composites, FAR-UK, Hive Composites, LMAT, Loop Technology, McLaren Automotive, The National Composites Centre, Solvay Composite Technologies, Rafinex, and Sigmatex (UK).

Together, the group looks forward to delivering the material and automation innovations that will power more sustainable mobility solutions of the future.

www.hexcel.com

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes extends landing gear kits contract with Magellan

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes division has extended its component supply contract with Canada-based supplier Magellan Aerospace.

Under this long-term contract, Magellan will continue to supply landing gear kits and structural components for Boeing platforms such as the 737, 767, and 777.

The contract extension also shows that Magellan meets Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ cost, quality and performance requirements.

Magellan business development, marketing and contract vice-president Haydn Martin said: “Securing this major business extension for key Boeing platforms is foundational for our New York and Kitchener facilities as the aerospace industry works to recover from the impact of the global pandemic.

“The confidence that Boeing has placed in Magellan is significant and demonstrates our ability to offer our customers comprehensive and reliable solutions.”

For Boeing, the company is using a vertical integration strategy that leverages global resources in Ontario, New York City, and India.

It has also made significant investments across all its facilities regarding manufacturing technology and the workforce to enhance its competitiveness worldwide.

Magellan will deliver these kits and hardware from its facilities in Kitchener, Ontario and New York City, New York. The company will also produce an extra supply of kits to reduce production risk.

Deliveries will be made directly to Boeing’s assembly facilities in Renton and Everett, Washington, US.

Last month, Magellan signed a five-year renewal agreement with Avio Aero to supply magnesium and aluminium castings.

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/boeing-commercial-aircraft-magellan/

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ZeroAvia raises new funding for hydrogen-electric engine development

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Zero-emission aviation firm ZeroAvia has raised $24.3m in new funding to support the development of a 2MW hydrogen-electric engine.

Hong Kong-based venture capital firm Horizons Ventures, an existing investor, led the latest funding round and was joined by new investor British Airways.

Other investors, including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Summa Equity, Shell Ventures, and SYSTEMIQ, also joined the financing.

The financing takes the company’s total private investment to more than $53m while the total funding raised is close to $74m since its formation.

ZeroAvia’s funding comes a few months after the UK Government, through the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), and Innovate UK, announced a $16.3m (£12.3m) grant to deliver a 19-seat hydrogen-electric powered aircraft in the market by 2023.

The new funding will accelerate the hydrogen-electric powertrain development for a ten to 20-seater regional aircraft.

ZeroAvia aims to commercialise the engine as early as 2024. The company aims to enter the more than 50-seater commercial aircraft segment by 2026.

The funding will also de-risk the company ambition to power a 100-seat single-aisle aircraft by 2030.

ZeroAvia CEO and founder Val Miftakhov said: “This new funding, in conjunction with our other recent milestones, will significantly accelerate our path to zero-emission solutions for larger regional aircraft at a commercial scale.

“With many airlines lining up and ready to make the shift to zero-emissions, we expect to see wide-scale adoption of this technology.”

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/zeroavia-electric-raising-funds/

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