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Government Space The Almighty Buck Transportation Science

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

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."
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Legislators: 'Spaceport America Could Become a Ghost Town'

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  • by NigelTheFrog ( 1292406 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @02:26PM (#42477971)

    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.

  • Re:Suspicous (Score:4, Informative)

    by the gnat ( 153162 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @02:45PM (#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 climb_no_fear ( 572210 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @02:51PM (#42478313)
    This paper suggests between 0.2 and 3% for a well established rocket (i.e., the end of the learning curve).

  • Re:Why not? (Score:4, Informative)

    by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @03:41PM (#42478921)
    I believe it was actually Reagan who implemented the phone subsidy program. What everyone should really be upset about is why it took a Mexican company to figure out that they could make money by offering a cell phone and plan cheap enough that you could afford the whole thing with the subsidy.
  • by garyebickford ( 222422 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (cib73rag)> on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:12PM (#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.

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

    by garyebickford ( 222422 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (cib73rag)> on Friday January 04, 2013 @06:16PM (#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.

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak