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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 Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @02:26PM (#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. [] More recently, there was that bogus empty test city in the desert [] project. New Mexico keeps trying to monetize all that desert, but it's not working.

  • Re:Suspicous (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @02:33PM (#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."

  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @02:38PM (#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?

  • Re:Suspicous (Score:5, Interesting)

    by garyebickford ( 222422 ) <> on Friday January 04, 2013 @03:52PM (#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.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter