Isle of Man: Space Industry

Space has become big business. In 2005, the sector generated in excess of $125bn (£70.66bn) for the global economy, and the Isle of Man has been quick to recognise this trend.

Over the past five years, the island been steadily building a portfolio of space-related businesses and incentives. Inmarsat, Boeing, Sea Launch and Loral already have operational structures there, and 2006 should see the emergence of the island as a recognised niche player in the space industry.

Planned developments
The first quarter of 2006 will see more than one small step for man. Shortly before last Christmas, SES Global, the world’s largest satellite operator, announced the establishment of an Isle of Man subsidiary.

At its launch, Mark Rigolle, the group’s finance director, stated: “The tax infrastructure and rate was a very convincing argument for us. Any questions we had were very diligently and in a very friendly and welcoming fashion replied to, and that gave us encouragement.

“The total investment running through the Isle of Man is in the order of €1bn (£570m). Given the fact that the Isle of Man will be the vehicle through which we will be funding our growth for the next several years, we hope that amount can only increase.”

Last December also saw the appointment of a senior civil servant, Tim Craine, as director of space commerce within the Isle of Man. This month, the island’s parliament, Tynwald, will vote on whether to invest a further £955,000 (£542,000) to assist Craine in his work, which is likely to be in collaboration with local space services company ManSat.

Soon after, a formal announcement is expected concerning the Excalibur project, a private sector joint venture between the Isle of Man, the US, Russia and Japan to recommission aspects of the Russian Almaz (the Russian word for ‘diamond’) space programme. Phase one of the project envisages the launch of the Almaz reuseable space capsules for orbital space tourism and cargo deliveries.

Futron recently conducted a space tourism market study and concluded that orbital and sub-orbital flights could generate more than $1bn (£570m) a year within the next 15 years.

Thereafter, phase two will look into the feasibility of asteroid mining. For example, asteroid 216 Kleopatra, located between Mars and Jupiter and roughly the size of New Jersey, is comprised mostly of nickel (10 per cent) and iron (88 per cent). At today’s prices, the worth of Kleopatra could run to hundreds of trillions of US dollars.

Asteroid mining is a quantum leap; however, the technology does exist. But the law, as is the case in many areas of technology, has not yet caught up.

Proposed legislation
Accordingly, in the next six months the Isle of Man government will be invited to consider groundbreaking legislation drafted by Art Dula, professor of space law at Houston University, in concert with Isle of Man honorary space counsel Christopher Stott, who is also based in Houston.

The primary purpose of this proposed legislation would be to make the law of the Isle of Man compatible with existing international space law and to encourage Manx private activities in outer space.

The secondary aim of the proposal is to codify existing practices in outer space and to recognise the well-established precedents already adopted by the prior activities of space powers, their space agencies and their space companies. The proposal is therefore based on existing practice and legal precedent; from the construction of the International Space Station in orbit, to the sale of lunar materials at auction and the use of solar power by geostationary satellites.

Although the proposal is a codification of existing law and practice, it would be, if enacted, nevertheless a world first. It is thought that other small jurisdictions may be considering analogous legislation to seize the initiative in this increasingly attractive area.

So what are the Isle of Man’s unique space-selling propositions? As well as being a benign tax and regulatory environment, the Isle of Man has a good physical infrastructure to support space-related activity. It has been home for many years to niche aerospace manufacturing concerns and is also at the forefront of telecommunications, making it well-placed for this developing sector.

Andrew Corlett is managing director of Cains