By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor
“California can have either all the regulation or all the business, but it can’t have both.”
That was the message delivered to a high-level state official who visited the Mojave Air and Space Port last week to see what Sacramento can do to help keep the burgeoning commercial space industry from moving to other states with fewer regulations, lower taxes and financial incentives.
David Knudsen of the Governor Jerry Brown’s Office of Economic Development visited last Tuesday, meeting with airport officials and the heads of the some of the NewSpace companies operating at the desert spaceport located 100 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.
The warning about choosing between regulations and business was delivered by XCOR CEO Jeff Greason during a 20-minute meeting at the hangar where the company is building its suborbital Lynx space plane, Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stuart Witt said. Knudsen also met with Masten Space Systems Founder Dave Masten and officials at the National Test Pilot School during his one-day visit.
Knudsen spoke briefly at the East Kern Airport District (EKAD) Board of Directors meeting. He said he was very excited to learn what was going on in Mojave, and that he was looking forward to partnering with the airport in the future. Knudsen mentioned no specifics and had to leave the meeting early.
Witt said that Knudsen told him he had no idea how much was happening in Mojave, and that he would report his findings back to the governor’s Cabinet. However, Knudsen warned that there’s only a limited amount the state can do given current fiscal and policy constraints, Witt added.
The fact-finding visit is a result of Witt’s campaign to get the state government to become more supportive of the space industry. His wish list includes regulatory relief, tax incentives, infrastructure funding, and “informed consent” legislation that would protect spacecraft operators from lawsuits for injuries or deaths except in cases in which they are grossly negligent or intentionally inflict harm on customers.
An informed consent bill is currently making its way through the California Legislature. Witt expected that it would be strongly opposed by the state’s trial lawyers, who believe that everyone deserves their day in court.
New Mexico, Virginia, Florida and Colorado have all passed similar liability protections. The governors of those states have personally lobbied Mojave companies to relocate, Witt said. He fears that the commercial space industry could flee to other states in the same way that the commercial aircraft industry did decades ago.
Although Mojave is thriving as a research and development center, that status may not last. Witt said that depressed housing values are currently keeping a lot of people from moving. As the economy improves, however, more people will want to sell their homes and move to states with lower taxes. That could lead to an exodus from the Mojave area.
Palmdale City Councilman Tom Lackey, who is running to represent Mojave in the State Assembly, attended the EKAD board meeting and was impressed to learn how much was happening at the spaceport.
“It’s amazing what goes on here,” he said, nothing how private enterprise has driven the success of the Mojave spaceport.
Lackey praised Witt as a “world-class leader” and “something special.” The spaceport’s success should be trumpeted and that government controls that limit innovation should be removed.