Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government Space The Almighty Buck Transportation Science

Legislators: 'Spaceport America Could Become a Ghost Town' 143

Posted by Soulskill
from the contract-negotiations-underway-with-actual-ghosts dept.
RocketAcademy writes "A group of New Mexico legislators is warning that the $200-million Spaceport America 'could become a ghost town, with tumbleweeds crossing the runways' if trial lawyers succeed in blocking critical liability legislation. The warning came in a letter to the Albuquerque Journal [subscription or free trial may be required]. Virgin Galactic has signed a lease to become the spaceport's anchor tenant, but may pull out if New Mexico is unable to provide liability protection for manufacturers and part suppliers, similar to legislation already passed by Texas, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia. The proposed legislation is also similar to liability protection which New Mexico offers to the ski industry. An eclectic group of business and civic interests has formed the Save Our Spaceport Coalition to support passage of the liability reform legislation, which is being fought by the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Legislators: 'Spaceport America Could Become a Ghost Town'

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Isn't it terribly convenient that, on the cusp of commercial spaceflight really taking a step forward a commercial spaceflight centre is threatened by legal action.

    • by alen (225700)

      so who is responsible if the rocket crashes into someone's home?

      • Re:Suspicous (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Lisias (447563) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:27PM (#42477983) Homepage Journal

        A crashing rocket can fall over the entire America, not only New Mexico.

        I'm sure I'm far from 100% right, but as far as I know, rockets commonly explodes on lauchpad, or are emergency destroyed a few kilometers high, when the debris fall out over a relatively small (and manageable) area.

        There're exceptions, as the two Space Shuttle accidents. But IMHO, people living near an prosaic airport are far more endangered than the guys at New Mexico.

        However, crashing rockets are not the only problem a spaceport (and its neighborhood) can suffer.

        • Re:Suspicous (Score:4, Informative)

          by the gnat (153162) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:45PM (#42478241)

          There're exceptions, as the two Space Shuttle accidents

          The 1996 crash in Xichang, China was almost certainly far more deadly - the rocket almost immediately crashed into a nearby heavily populated area. It's not actually clear how many people died, since the government of course has a monopoly on information.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        who's responsible when a plane crashes into someone's home?

        also, it just so happens that the space port is in a very rural part of the state and the south east portion of new mexico is part of the white sands missile test range

        • I echo this sentiment. I've been to WSMR (White Sands Missile Range) for work, and it's deserted (no pun intended). There's nothing of consequence for like 50 miles!

      • by SomePgmr (2021234)

        I imagine that falls on the insurance of the operating company.

        It sounds like this is about liability for travelers to space. As the article quotes Sen. Smith, âoeWhen you buy a ski ticket, you waive your right to sue the ski operator if certain rules are properly followedâ¦. When you buy a ticket to go to space, you willingly assume all of the risk.â

      • Re:Suspicous (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Thud457 (234763) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:33PM (#42478055) Homepage Journal

        so who is responsible if the rocket crashes into someone's home?

        Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

        Why can't these spaceports just be required to carry some amount of insurance? You know, let the free market do its work. If people value shooting rockets into space more than not having an occasional house squashed by a failed rocket, we'll have rockets.

        "Rocket corp is a real person(tm), just like you. Except that you can be sued into poverty if you happen to drop a rocket on somebody's house."

        • Re:Suspicous (Score:5, Interesting)

          by garyebickford (222422) <`gar37bic' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday January 04, 2013 @02:52PM (#42479083)

          Because, without the legislation being offered, the potential liability is essentially unlimited, and forever. The general aviation industry was plagued and almost destroyed by excessive liability. This was partially fixed by a law in the late 1990s (IIRC) removing the 'long tail' liability.

          As an example from when I was living in CA back in the 1980s, a pilot forgot to put gas in his 35 year old Cessna, took off and crashed into a house about a mile from the airport. The homeowner was killed (along with the pilot). In addition to the pilot's estate, the homeowner's estate sued the manufacturer of every part in the airplane for negligence. One company, a builder of starters or generators (I forget which) spent $2 million in 1980s money in legal fees, proving that their generator was not even on the plane! That company then ceased building any parts for airplanes, as their gross sales for those parts was only a few $million per year and insurance costs would have been higher than the manufacturing cost.

          Not much later Cessna ceased building general aviation planes (except for the Citation jets), and said that they would start again once the liability laws were fixed.

          The 'long tail' law basically put a cap of (IIRC) 20 years on defective part liability for manufacturers. The basic idea is that if a part has lasted 20 years, it's probably not defective in any rational sense. Once this law passed, I think Cessna did in fact resume low levels of production.

          Rockets are going to be considered 'fun rides for elite snobs with too much money' even more than airplanes. So, bottom line - without some legislation, in the event of a crash, a falling part, or a loud noise as it flies over, the trial lawyers would be able to sue the Spaceport and Virgin Galactic and everyone who ever mentioned the word 'rocket', on behalf of every individual in the state, whether or not they had even heard or seen anything or even knew something was flying that day. There are already federal and state laws (for the states that do a lot of space activities) limiting liability for commercial space launches. This legislation would do the same for New Mexico. Without it, NM will not ever be a space-business state.

          • When you buy a ski ticket, you waive your right to sue the ski operator if certain rules are properly followed. When you buy a ticket to go to space, you willingly assume all of the risk.

            They're not talking about protection for people on the ground. They're saying the people onboard are taking all the risk and directly comparing it to skiing. We're at the point where ski equipment is probably quite reliable and in addition a skier can and should inspect their own equipment and be blamed for any liability.

            • Re:But this is BS: (Score:4, Informative)

              by garyebickford (222422) <`gar37bic' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday January 04, 2013 @05:16PM (#42481147)

              Serves me right for not RTFA. :) However I think your argument VSV the ski industry is backwards. The limitation of expectations there were first developed when skiing was much less predictable and the equipment was much less reliable - much like the private space industry now in a sense (though I suspect everything WRT space is so challenging that the reliability of individual parts is usually much better than ski parts.)

              And I would agree with Burt Rutan on the auto parts. Auto manufacturers have to make stuff that handles just about everything that a space craft would throw at it except for the greater extremes of temperature and pressure, and make it last for 100,000+ miles. That stuff has gotten pretty d_mn reliable, and robust against heat, cold, vibration, dust, electrical weirdness, etc. But those parts are an order of magnitude cheaper than similar items on an airplane that are actually less reliable and less advanced, due to the cost of getting FAA and FCC approval, said cost being amortized over only a few thousand units. My case in point - without going into detail, in the early 1980s you could buy a $50 CB radio that was better in all ways than a $2500 airplane radio. The difference had a lot to do with the fact that if you changed the value of a single resistor in the airplane radio it could cost $1 million (in 1980 dollars) to get through both FCC and FAA approvals again. That cost was amortized over maybe 2000 units = $500 per unit.

              In fact, that's an argument for allowing the space folks to bypass some types of FAA approval (they are also subject to NASA approvals), to allow faster development and improvement, and allow the market to establish the necessary level of reliability. None of these companies - Space-X, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, etc. - have any interest in failures due to poor quality parts, workmanship, design or engineering at this point. I'm not 100% convinced of this argument, but it's one worth making.

          • the homeowner's estate sued the manufacturer of every part in the airplane for negligence

            See, there's the problem. If we did not have a monopoly on dispute resolution, nobody would *ever* contract with a court that allowed such complaints to proceed. It's destructive to the populous but perpetuates the system, so it survives.

      • so who is responsible if the rocket crashes into someone's home?

        It seems to be more about liability for accidents affecting passengers. Reading the article and various ones linked from it, I didn't see any mention of general immunity for any kind of accident. They compare it to the waivers given for bungee jumping and similar. To use that comparison, I assume that a bungee jump operator could be sued if they sent a customer crashing in to somebody's house.

        • It seems to be more about liability for accidents affecting passengers.

          That's exactly the case, except that they're called "spaceflight participants," not "passengers." To regulators, these terms have very specific meanings.

      • The homeowner. They should've seen it coming and gotten out of the way.

      • by spasm (79260)

        Gravity. In fact, given the number of injuries and deaths caused by gravity every year, it's long past time we sued it out of existence.

    • by sycodon (149926) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:37PM (#42478097)

      As soon as they can fire the first rocket, they need to gather ALL the members of the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association and load them up and shoot them into orbit...forever or until they burn up in the atmosphere.

      • As soon as they can fire the first rocket, they need to gather ALL the members of the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association and load them up and shoot them into orbit...forever or until they burn up in the atmosphere.

        I would make that for ALL lawyers.

        • by xxdelxx (551872)
          But you have to start somewhere. The New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association seems to be as good a start point as any. Ideally we need some objective metrics so that we can gauge the quality of life improvements for humans when various lawyer sub-species are reduced. Note I don't support extinction - leaving some around as an object lesson for future generations is, I think, required. The real question is - can we then jettison that portion of politicians which aren't (failed or otherwise) lawyers?
          • The real question is - can we then jettison that portion of politicians which aren't (failed or otherwise) lawyers?

            Depends on if they actually have been useful in their position, with a qualifier that if they are a career politician that's an automatic jettison.

      • I know this was meant to be humorous but this state is a lot less litigious than most.
  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:17PM (#42477835)
    Complete the port and then shoot the trial lawyers into space.
  • by Whatsmynickname (557867) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:17PM (#42477839)

    And this folks is precisely why we never get anything done anymore... Between the lawyers / politicians / managers who "just want to get along", we will just sit here and spin our wheels until our society falls apart.

    • And this folks is precisely why we never get anything done anymore...

      No, this is why New Mexico apparently isn't serious about having a spaceport. I know Colorado already has a robust space industry and would probably welcome the opportunity to host a spaceport if New Mexico doesn't want to do it.

      • Colorado is too far north to take advantage of the low latitude that gives rockets a greater velocity. You wouldn't want to launch from that far north, unless you had no other option.

        • by PhxBlue (562201)

          Should be fine for polar orbital launches, though, right? A lot of satellites could take advantage of that, particularly reconnaissance satellites, weather satellites and GPS (whose satellites aren't polar, though most of them follow a non-equitorial orbit).

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:40PM (#42478163) Journal

      Virgin Galactic has signed a lease to become the spaceport's anchor tenant, but may pull out if New Mexico is unable to provide liability protection for manufacturers and part suppliers, similar to legislation already passed by Texas, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia.

      Allow me to translate:
      Virgin Galactic has signed a lease to become the spaceport's anchor tenant, but may pull out if New Mexico is unable to provide liability subsidies for manufacturers and part suppliers, similar to subsidies already passed by Texas, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia.

      Virgin is asking to be protected from paying insurance on the full cost of the risk it is creating.
      I'm not saying I'm against it, just that we should call this "protection" what it is: socializing the risks and privatizing the profits.

      • If it was purely a monetary subsidy, why would the trial lawyers be fighting it (since they could get paid either way)?
        • by Lashat (1041424)

          They don't get paid if they don't have any gray area to litigate with. IANAL and only read the linked article, but that indicates the fuss is over protecting the manufacturing, parts, and supply chain as well as the operator of the space flight.

          If a contract is made with the operator to launch a satellite there must be a defined responsibile party if the rocket blows up destroying the payload and perhaps raining death and destruction onto the ground.

          Failing parts or operational failures are not "acts of Go

        • by TubeSteak (669689)

          If it was purely a monetary subsidy, why would the trial lawyers be fighting it (since they could get paid either way)?

          Subsidies do not have to be direct cash transfers.
          Tax breaks, liability indemnification, accelerated depreciation, loan guarantees, tariffs, regulatory exemptions, etc etc etc

          In this case, the trial lawyers want to sue as many people as possible if a passenger dies,
          and Virgin is saying that there needs to be legal immunity for all the companies involved in manufacturing and launching.

          If States in the USA weren't engaged in a regulatory race to the bottom, Virgin would probably be forced to indemnify its con

      • by Solandri (704621)

        Virgin is asking to be protected from paying insurance on the full cost of the risk it is creating.

        Read TFA:

        Smith said the protections being proposed in the new legislation are similar to those which New Mexico offers to the ski industry. âoeWhen you buy a ski ticket, you waive your right to sue the ski operator if certain rules are properly followedâ¦. When you buy a ticket to go to space, you willingly assume all of the risk.â

        It's not a subsidy. It's a simple disclaimer that space l

        • "Just don't try to pin the blame on someone else if something goes wrong. Virgin isn't creating the risk. The people wanting to do the activity are. Virgin is simply providing them a means to conduct the activity."

          Absolute BS. Virgin *IS* clearly creating the risk, as the risk would not -- could not -- exist if they weren't pursuing their goals, which will I remind you is a unique commercial venture.

          Why should ski areas (lift manufacturers, etc.) be absolved of liability in the case of, say, negligence? Why should any commercial enterprise be "protected" from the people who use its service?

          It's just money shuffling, from the have-nots to the haves.

          Don't misunderstand me! I am all for Virgin Galactic and such

      • by stenvar (2789879)

        Your translation is erroneous. There are no "subsidies", not even in the form of assumption of risk or exemption from liability.

        Instead, our liability laws are so out of whack that even if you are a billionaire, knowingly engage in risky behavior, pay for the privilege, acknowledge this in writing, and absolve everybody from liability, you can then turn around and still sue everybody even if they did exactly what they promised they would do.

        Who is responsible for this? People like you, people who can't turn

      • by garyebickford (222422) <`gar37bic' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday January 04, 2013 @03:12PM (#42479349)

        As a physics professor once said, "Your thesis is not even wrong" - it's nonsense. Sorry, but you need to do some research. Because of the egregious nature of the present tort system, the liability is essentially unlimited, and would require insurance premiums many times larger than the total cost of the product.

        Under present NM law, if a rocket causes a sonic boom then everyone in the state could sue Virgin, the Spaceport and every business that provides parts or fuel or services to them - whether they heard the boom or not! Settling at, say $100,000 per person times the 2 million people in NM is $200 billion - well outside the range of insurable amounts. Another example - "the exhaust of these infernal rockets caused my asthma to act up" - even though I live 200 miles away and upwind.

        The above is not a joke - similarly ridiculous suits have been successful, and in fact such suits destroyed the US general aviation industry, where insurance premiums exceeded actual manufacturing costs, and were anticipated to exceed the actual sale price of parts. A similar legislative fix finally saved a small portion of the GA industry, after 90% of the makers had gone out of business or left the industry.

        The whole rise of 'kit' airplanes was a response - if an airplane was over 50% manufactured by the hobbyist, all the liability rested with him/her. This meant that a kit manufacturer was mostly home free on liability, and the cost of the plane would be between 1/4 and 1/2 what a manufactured plane would cost.

        (Recognize that at present, between up to 2/3 of your total medical bills are purely going to liability insurance, and that is a very predictable product liability-wise. A heart surgeon pays between 1/3 and 1/2 their gross income as insurance. Then there is the built-in cost of insurance on every facility, every part, every sterile package, etc.)

        At present, my understanding is that every state with any significant space-related industry has some form of limitation on liability to force some sense into the system and prevent novel new interpretations of the law from biting the industry. If NM wants to become a space-related state, it will have to do the same.

        • Under present NM law, if a rocket causes a sonic boom then everyone in the state could sue Virgin

          I'll assume here that NM doesn't have a specific sonic-boom tort, and that what's really being asked for here is a special carve-out for spaceflight in a general-purpose batshit-insane legal system.

          And people wonder why businesses are 'all' going overseas. How about fixing the general case, not giving special perks to those with lobbyists?

          • How about fixing the general case, not giving special perks to those with lobbyists?

            While I agree with this sentiment in general, I'm not sure it applies strongly here. Private commercial space development is a new industry, and as such many things having to do with the legal structure are poorly defined or not defined at all. One of the areas that must be filled in is how to handle liability related to activities on the way to space, and in space (outside the gravity well of Earth, let's say for the purposes of argument). Some of this is certainly covered by existing US law and regulat

            • "Some of this is certainly covered by existing US law and regulations..."

              I don't see it as being all that much of a gray area. Sure, there are risks, and the customer (passenger) must assume some risks due to, say, unknown or unknowable circumstances.

              But liability? For things such as negligence for example? It doesn't need "protection". We already have perfectly good laws that cover it and no commercial venture should be immune. Let them cover the actual costs of doing business, or go out of business.

      • by ljw1004 (764174)

        Virgin Galactic has signed a lease to become the spaceport's anchor tenant, but may pull out if New Mexico is unable to provide liability subsidies for manufacturers and part suppliers, similar to subsidies already passed by Texas, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia.

        Virgin is asking to be protected from paying insurance on the full cost of the risk it is creating.
        I'm not saying I'm against it, just that we should call this "protection" what it is: socializing the risks and privatizing the profits.

        Your phrase "risk it is creating" is incorrect. The cost here is an artificial cost invented by regulatory framework. It arises from the inability in this area to form contracts of the form "if we follow the following procedures them you agree not to sue us." The risk is real, but legislation has artificially inflated it, and they're asking legislation to ease off so the risk has its true free-market cost.

      • by russotto (537200)

        Allow me to translate:
        Virgin Galactic has signed a lease to become the spaceport's anchor tenant, but may pull out if New Mexico is unable to provide liability subsidies for manufacturers and part suppliers, similar to subsidies already passed by Texas, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia.

        Allow me to present a slightly different spin:

        Virgin Galactic has signed a lease to become the spaceport's anchor tenant, but may pull out if New Mexico retains its unreasonable liability laws for manufacturers and parts suppl

    • "And this folks is precisely why we never get anything done anymore."

      I think this is mostly a USA-specific curse, so the business will just go elsewhere. You do seem to be rather plagued by lawyers, and citizens ready to sue for millions/quadra-tetra-billions at the first whiff of a split hot coffee or cracked paving slab that might cause them emotional damage.

      So I think it will just be to the detriment of the USA and not necessarily anywhere else. Though to be fair we do seem to be having more of this kind

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Thousands of government projects a year get done successfully is now 'never get anything done anymore.'

    • USA badly needs some depussification if it is going to compete with China and other emerging economies in the long run. You have to take some risks every once in a while but you can't do that if there is a pack of lawyers watching like hawks and waiting for your slightest mistake to sue you out of business. Our extreme obsession with safety will lead to our destruction.

  • by mark_reh (2015546)

    corporate welfare to me, the cost of which is borne by the tax payers.

    If the business can't generate enough cash flow to pay the liability insurance bill, maybe the business shouldn't exist.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by NigelTheFrog (1292406)

      If the business can't generate enough cash flow to pay the liability insurance bill, maybe the business shouldn't exist.

      But if they can just go a couple of states over and not have to pay, they'd be crazy to stay.

      • by mark_reh (2015546)

        California has been playing this game for so long their public schools have turned to crap because there's no tax money to pay for them. Every time a state cuts a corporate welfare deal or tax break someone else gets screwed, usually kids and/or the poor.

        • California is also the state where a burglar climbed up to the roof of a two-story building, broke through a skylight, climbed down a rope, burgled the building (IIRC it was the LA School District Education Department or some such), and fell as he was climbing back up the rope, breaking his back. He successfully sued the District for (IIRC) $2 million for not making the skylight burglar proof. (This happened when I lived in Newport Beach in the early 1980s.)

          Establishing the ground rules for what is reason

    • So kill NASA, because they shouldn't be immune either. /sarcasm
    • by TheCarp (96830)

      I tend to agree. Moreover... I would say there are two concerns that i have here, neither of which lead me to think "An exception is in order".

      1. Perhaps, as you say, they should be able to pay for liability or go out of business. This assumes there is nothing wrong with the law thats stupidly making this impossible.

      or...

      2. They mention laws for ski slopes. Which beggs the question... why so ski slopes need it? The article says:

      âoeWhen you buy a ski ticket, you waive your right to sue the ski operator

      • It's not just the passengers - it's also the guy who sues for $1 million claiming that the rocket exhaust caused his asthma to flare up, necessitating a hospital stay and the loss of his job - even though he lives 200 miles upwind from the spaceport and the rocket launched the day after his asthma problem occurred. Virgin settles for $100,000 to avoid going to court and having an idiot jury award $1 million. Now multiply that times 2 million people in New Mexico.

        • It's not just the passengers - it's also the guy who sues for $1 million claiming that the rocket exhaust caused his asthma to flare up,

          No, it's not. This law does not affect third-party liability, which is already covered by FAA regulations and insurance requirements.

          • I stand corrected to some extent however civil suits regarding various aspects of flight still occur with regularity in both federal and state courts, and space flight is new so there are inevitably new aspects. If NM does not have some rules on this as well, the industry could still have state-level liability problems for external effects of the flights or failures thereof. If there is a way, some lawyer is going to find it. A vehicle working for NASA is in a quite different situation from a vehicle wor

    • When anyone in the state can say "I smelled the rocket exhaust, and now my asthma is bothering me, and I had to go to the hospital" even though they live 200 miles away and upwind of the facility, and Virgin has to settle for $100,000 to avoid even higher legal costs, it's not a question of corporate welfare. It's a question of infusing some sanity into the legal system.

      Without the legislation, the cost of liability insurance might well be several times the retail price of the product.

      Liability reform of t

  • No more trips to Alpha Centauri!
  • by Animats (122034) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:26PM (#42477969) Homepage

    After more than half a century of big rockets, they still crash far too often. About 5%-10% of satellite launches still fail. Chemically powered rockets have to be weight-reduced to the point that they're inherently unreliable.

    Boeing doesn't have legislation protecting them if one of their airliners crashes onto somebody's house. They carry private insurance for that. If affordable insurance isn't available from the private sector, the technology isn't safe enough for use by private parties.

    The previous administration in New Mexico was involved in some major boondoggles. There's this spaceport, which is way overbuilt. There's the reposessed supercomputer. [abqjournal.com] More recently, there was that bogus empty test city in the desert [economicde...menthq.com] project. New Mexico keeps trying to monetize all that desert, but it's not working.

    • by PhxBlue (562201)

      After more than half a century of big rockets, they still crash far too often.

      Do you have a citation to back up your claim? United Launch Alliance has a pretty good record, from what I recall. Who else launches rockets, and what are their failure rates?

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      After more than half a century of big rockets, they still crash far too often. About 5%-10% of satellite launches still fail.

      Uh, no. A typical failure rate for a well-established launcher is 2%.

      And many of those failures are 'well, we can't get to orbit any more so we might as well crash and burn' types that wouldn't apply to a manned launcher which can shut the engine down and fly back. Current unmanned satellite launchers aren't designed to bring the satellite back if something goes badly wrong, because the costs would outweigh the benefits.

    • Your right, but...

      Getting insurance for you satellite that's being launched on a well tested, commercial rocket it easy, just pay for it. If 5% are expected to fail, expect to pay a bit more than 5% of the value of the satellite. For 100% of the cost, you have a 5% chance of losing everything, for 105 + N% of the cost, you have a 0% chance of losing everything.

      If you are the first to use a given launch system, the insurance company is going to set N to a large value. If the rocket has people on it
    • by Solandri (704621)

      Boeing doesn't have legislation protecting them if one of their airliners crashes onto somebody's house. They carry private insurance for that. If affordable insurance isn't available from the private sector, the technology isn't safe enough for use by private parties.

      The problem is that the liability for human fatalities scales based on rarity and how spectacular an accident is. You'd think a human life is a human life, so the liability for any death would be the same regardless of cause. But a mundane

    • If affordable insurance isn't available from the private sector, the technology isn't safe enough for use by private parties.

      "Private parties" are not allowed to decide for themselves what is and isn't safe enough?

      Riding stables are protected by equine liability laws. So, I guess horses would be banned in your version of the nanny state? Or limited to the United States Cavalry?

    • by Quila (201335)

      There is a lot of legal liability limitation for airlines and airplane manufacturers, both in the US and internationally by treaty.

    • Boeing doesn't have legislation protecting them if one of their airliners crashes onto somebody's house.

      So do rocket companies. You don't understand the difference between third-party liability and first/second-party.

      There's a difference between sitting your house and having an airliner crash on it and going out to a spaceport and buying a ticket. One of those involves assumed risk. The other doesn't.

  • Get the lawyers involved.

  • by wierd_w (1375923) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:38PM (#42478125)

    There's a special interest group --for lawyers-- to pressure lawmakers to make laws --for the benefit of lawyers-- to maintain an intractible wall of legal liabilities, so said lawyers will never run out of people to sue?

    And we are taking it.... seriously?

    For real?

    Coming from an industry that makes flagrant use of offset liabilities and liability law loopholes (the legal profession), this seems to be not only pathologically stupid and self destructive, but also blatantly hipocritical.

    Seriously, an association for trial lawyers?

    • by wierd_w (1375923)

      [Clarification: I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. The above statement refers to the solidarity shown by said interest group in stonewalling the liability reform.]

    • Seriously, an association for trial lawyers?

      How about the bulk of major elected officials, you know, senators, congressmen, etc. Last I checked the majority were lawyers, who go back into law when their terms are over.

  • is bullshit.
    Your shit blows up and damages something, then you are liable.

    • by wierd_w (1375923)

      From what I am reading, that isn't what they are asking for.

      They are asking for this protection:

      "If we perform every possible safety contingency available with our launch activities, and an accident occurs anyway, such as a cabin fire, or the like, we want mitigated liability via the use of passenger wavers."

      Not "we want to shoot big bottle rockets, and not be liable for where they come down."

      One is sensible. The other is not.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        Virgin already has immunity.
        They want a law extending that immunity to their suppliers and manufacturers.

        This wasn't an issue until several other states passed laws immunizing everyone.

        • Virgin already has immunity. They want a law extending that immunity to their suppliers and manufacturers.

          Except that Virgin recently acquired The Spaceship Company. So, they are now the manufacturer as well.

  • .....we grant airplanes or automobile makers the same kind of liability. So why should this industry be granted the same? The examples used in the open letter, skiing, skydiving, and bungee jumping, are considered "extreme sports". They are activities with a certain degree of personal risk. Space travel should not be in the same category. What we are seeing here is an industry in its infancy. As such the pioneers are looking down the road and trying to head off substantive regulation. Right now many may c
    • That is, we *don't* grant that kind of liability. Ugh.
    • by stenvar (2789879)

      But if limited liability is granted now, it will be that much harder to retract years later.

      Granted? Are you serious? "Limited liability" isn't something that should have to be "granted". If I want to off myself in a spectacular way and pay for it, that is frankly none of your or the legislature's business. These kinds of liabilities should never have been created in the first place, except for circumstances where people inexperienced people mistakenly assume excessive risk.

      And given the kind of knee-jerk w

    • .....we grant airplanes or automobile makers the same kind of liability. So why should this industry be granted the same? The examples used in the open letter, skiing, skydiving, and bungee jumping, are considered "extreme sports". They are activities with a certain degree of personal risk. Space travel should not be in the same category. .

      Roughly 1% of all human beings who've gone into space have died in the attempt. That is more extreme than skiing, skydiving, or bungee jumping -- or even professional rodeo.

      Both the FAA and the United States Congress have declared that spaceflight is an "intrinsically dangerous activity."

      Also, this talk of regulation is moot anyway. It is only a matter of time before the Feds get involved and pre-empt all state regs.

      They are already are involved. That's why the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation exists. However, it isn't clear that liability for a spaceflight that begins and ends in New Mexico falls under the Interstate

      • by PhxBlue (562201)

        However, it isn't clear that liability for a spaceflight that begins and ends in New Mexico falls under the Interstate Commerce Clause.

        Any launch from New Mexico is going to fly over other states, if not other countries, on its way to orbit. So yes, the interstate commerce clause could certainly apply if a New Mexico-launched rocket explodes and rains debris over Texas and Louisiana.

        • Any launch from New Mexico is going to fly over other states, if not other countries, on its way to orbit. So yes, the interstate commerce clause could certainly apply if a New Mexico-launched rocket explodes and rains debris over Texas and Louisiana.

          No, they will not overfly other states, and they aren't going to orbit. And again, you're confusing second- and third-party liability. Please do some research.

  • This quote from Lord of War.
    "You know who's going to inherit the world? Arms dealers. Because everyone else is too busy killing each other."

    It should instead be:
    You know who's going to inherit the world? Lawyers. Because everyone else is too busy suing each other.
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:11PM (#42480191)

    If one of these rockets comes crashing down on your head, you sure as hell aren't going to want the launcher to have special protections. And, if the shit comes down, a trial lawyer is going to be your only weapon against the megacorporations financing these launches.

  • My old boss was always telling me "not to re-invent the wheel" when I was designing and writing my software...

    There's a fully functional, well established spaceport about 20 miles from where I live in east central Florida. It seems to be largely unused these days and it has a huge safety range already established as well (i.e. the Atlantic Ocean.) Perhaps those folk should consider moving their operations here instead of building their own.

    If they choose to stay there, I wish them better luck than we had

    • by conradp (154683)

      I saw a great talk on PBS by Burt Rutan where someone from Florida asked him that very question. Sadly I can't find it on YouTube. He said he could never operate out of a government-run spaceport because the red tape and bureaucracy would never let him get anything done. He has tried it before at Vandenburg in California and he finds it cheaper to build a brand new private spaceport from scratch than to try to operate at a government-run facility.

  • As someone who is 100% behind the idea of commercial space activities and hopes one-day to be able to go into space (or on a sub-orbital flight) myself, I am 100% behind the idea of giving manufacturers and parts suppliers protection from liability if the operators of the space flight do everything in their power to make it safe and something goes wrong anyway.

  • Standard business behavior. Make the public pay for liability, but don't give the public the profits. Keep all profits for the investors, who supposedly deserve it for... no one knows why. Then use some of those profits to pay accountants to stash the cash in some foreign country and avoid taxes which might somehow benefit the people. Because those people paying for liability insurance don't deserve anything but grief for helping rich people fly into space. Makes good sense for a few, but not for the many.

  • Spaceport America is a government boondoggle that will die in court. The governor of NM is trying and failing to secure private investors, most of whom know better than to sacrifice their capital to this lawsuit magnet.

    If and when something like this gets built it will happen in Mexico. Virgin or whomever will pay off the local kleptocrats, put some Blackwater guys on the perimeter and fly their paying customers in with a Sikorsky. The Romper Room States of America will not be involved.

    Unless the Air For

  • US companies can build the same tech overseas, for example in Brazil, and locate their spaceport there too. Spaceport gets built either way.

"Buy land. They've stopped making it." -- Mark Twain

Working...