December 4, 2019

Amy Sprague

Charting the rules for space:
A new UW center convenes policymakers, scientists and engineers

Jackson School Professor Saadia Pekkanen and aeronautics and astronautics Chair Kristi Morgansen are convening the first major event of the new Space Policy and Research Center.

“If you know what the rules are, you get better, more appropriate solutions,” says UW aeronautics and astronautics chair Kristi Morgansen. She’s summing up the raison d’être of the new Space Policy and Research Center, which is convening experts in space law and policy with scientists and engineers to create a hub for space advances in the Pacific Northwest.

She refers to the regulatory environment on drones as a cautionary tale of what happens when technology and policy are not aligned.  “In the early days of drones, we thought we could build whatever we wanted and we did. But then, understandably, significant concerns about safety and privacy entered the public consciousness and  regulations were put into place that created additional unforeseen challenges. For example, drones were restricted to the point that when we have critical needs like search and rescue, responders have not been able to get clearance to fly their drones under an appropriate timeframe.”

Morgansen is teaming up with Jackson School professor Saadia Pekkanen. Pekkanen underscores the importance of law and policy keeping pace with developments in space. She says, “Outer space has some important differences with other domains with additional ethical and defense implications that will be critical for humanity to sort out. Today, outer space affairs are democratized and commercialized beyond the established players in the West, raising concerns about how a whole new generation of stakeholders will operate together in the future. We need to make sure the playing field has clear rules that work around our globe.” 

Morgansen and Pekkanen see the UW as a natural leader to convene top industry, policy and researchers to work together to achieve better solutions here in the Pacific Northwest, in what Pekkanen has coined, the “‘Silicon Valley’ of space.” The Space Policy and Research Center is starting the conversation with its UW Space Symposium on Friday, December 6, on the UW campus.