Until recently, space activity in the U.S. was exclusively the stuff of federal agencies—namely, NASA and the Department of Defense—and a few commercial space-based communications providers. Not surprisingly, therefore, the legal practice area serving the space sector has traditionally involved such staple “space law” specialties as government contracting, satellite insurance and Federal Communications Commission compliance.
That is all changing. Thanks to the emergence of well-capitalized enterprises like Virgin Galactic (founded by Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson), SpaceX (headed by PayPal’s Elon Musk), Blue Origin (started by Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos), Armadillo Aerospace (spawned by computer game programmer John Carmack), and Bigelow Aerospace (run by hotelier Robert Bigelow), rocket engineers in remote places like Mojave, Calif. and Caddo Mills, Texas are building hardware to take fare-paying passengers—or, as the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) new spaceflight regulations refer to them, space flight participants (SFPs)—into the black of space. And things are well beyond the drawing table.