Australia updates commercial launch regulations

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WASHINGTON — The Australian government has enacted new regulations regarding the launch and reentry of commercial vehicles as part of an effort to help promote development of a domestic launch industry.

The revised regulations, which took effect Aug. 31, update regulations first put into place two decades ago for licensing launches and launch sites, streamlining the licensing process while also reducing insurance requirements.

“By updating the regulatory framework, we are improving Australians’ access to space, while continuing to uphold our strong values to ensure safety of activities on Earth and in space,” said Megan Clark, head of the Australian Space Agency, in an Aug. 30 statement announcing the rules, which went into effect a year after the passage of an amended space act by Australia’s parliament.

“These reforms ensure that Australia’s space regulation accommodates technological advancements and does not unnecessarily inhibit innovation in Australia’s space capabilities,” said Clark.

The changes reflect the perception that existing rules, adopted in the Space Activities Act of 1998, were too inflexible and onerous. That act, patterned on launch licensing regulations in the United States, was put into place at a time when the former Kistler Aerospace was proposing to launch its two-stage reusable K-1 launch vehicle from Australia.

The K-1 never flew, from Australia or anywhere else, but in the last few years there has been growing interest in new launch vehicles, particularly for small satellites, that could be developed or launched from Australia. Companies working on such vehicles, though, saw the existing regulations as a barrier to launching from the country.

“Previous regulations were opaque and, among others, required a rocket company to also own and operate a launch site in Australia,” said Adam Gilmour, chief executive and founder of Gilmour Space Technologies, an Australian company working on a small launch vehicle, in an email to SpaceNews.

The new rules license launch sites separately from launch vehicles. Other changes now allow for licensing of air-launch systems and high-power amateur rocketry.

One of the biggest changes is a lessening of insurance requirements for launches. The rules now cap insurance requirements at $100 million Australian ($68 million). Gilmour said that, previously, even suborbital launches required a minimum coverage of $750 million.

The new rules, he said, are not perfect. “What could be improved is their risk formula for calculating launch failure risk, which is too conservative and it vastly over-estimates the launch failure risk beyond five launches,” he said.

Overall, he said he was satisfied that the improved regulations are now in place. “In a nutshell, however, I will say that Australia is now open for business for launching rockets.”