August 16, 2005


A go-ahead was given last week by the U.S. Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) that clears the way for exchanges of technical information between Scaled Composites of Mojave, California and Virgin Galactic of the United Kingdom to build passenger-carrying suborbital spaceliners.

Among its duties, DDTC administers and enforces International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

“Putting it in ITAR terms…this is one small step for ITAR, one big leap for Virgin Galactic,” said Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic—the space tourism endeavor that is a subsidiary of British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

“It allows us to activate all the parts of the project,” Whitehorn told in an exclusive phone interview, such as use of technology—SpaceShipOne’s reentry concept and hybrid rocket motor design, for example—that can be licensed through Paul Allen’s Mojave Aerospace Ventures.

Great news. I think the Virgin Galactic folks should save me a “press” seat!

UPDATE: A reader writes:

So it’s good news when some government bureaucrats “permit” two privately owned companies to voluntarily exchange technical information. Gee, aren’t we lucky to have such clear-sighted bureaucrats controlling our supposedly free economy?

Sometimes it is very difficult to understand how you consider yourself even mildly libertarian.

No, but it’s easy to understand why so many overly literal libertarians are at the margin, politically and socially, when you read stuff like that.

To me, when government officials act intelligently in the exercise of their powers, it’s good news (and I suspect that few libertarians take such intelligence for granted). That’s a distinct question from what powers they ought to have — and in export controls (as I’ve noted in various scholarly writings) their powers are pretty clearly too broad. But that’s a separate discussion, as should be obvious. People who want every discussion of current events to go back to first principles are tiresome and I find discussion with them is seldom profitable. Plus, people avoid them at parties.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Shelby Clark emails:

Ouch! Dissed by a law professor for being tedious and poorly socialized!

I kid – as a lawyer, law profs are some of my favorite people. But still.

Yeah, that’s gotta hurt, I guess.

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