Spaceport America — Hanging By a Proverbial Thread

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“So when you’re near me, darling can’t you hear me

S. O. S.
The love you gave me, nothing else can save me
S. O. S.
When you’re gone
How can I even try to go on?
When you’re gone
Though I try how can I carry on?”

– ABBA, “S.O.S.”

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

The Save Our Spaceport (S.O.S.) Coalition is up and running with a website to support for an extension of the informed consent law for Virgin Galactic and other future tenants of Spaceport America.

So, after lengthy negotiations, years of construction, extravagant promises of new jobs and businesses by politicians and a British billionaire, and the investment of $209 million in taxpayer’s money, New Mexico faces the following stark choice in the new year:

Sign away all the rights of passengers and their heirs to sue for injuries or deaths aboard space vehicles except in cases of gross negligence or intentional harm

or

Face the prospect of having an empty spaceport miles from anywhere with no discernible use when Virgin Galactic picks up and goes elsewhere and no one else will move in.

This would be funny (or even farcical) if it didn’t involve so much public money.

At issue is the extension of an existing informed consent law that now protects spacecraft operations (Virgin Galactic) to include spacecraft manufacturers (also Virgin Galactic) and their suppliers.

Specifically, the measure would protect a company run by a billionaire (Sir Richard Branson) and backed by billionaire investors (Abu Dhabi’s government) to the tune of almost $490 million from being sued by passengers,  most of whom are millionaires and billionaires. More generally, it would also protect other companies that don’t have such deep pockets.

New Mexico officials say the extension is required to keep Spaceport America’s anchor — and, so far, only — tenant (Virgin Galactic again)  from going to another state that has such protections. Officials also say it’s needed to attract other tenants so the spaceport can recoup its operating expenses and remain viable.

To date, New Mexico’s legislators have rejected extending the protections, preferring to leave passengers with some rights. We’ll see what happens when the next legislative session opens on Jan. 15.

Sample letters and talking points from the website are reproduced below.

SAMPLE LETTER
Use these ideas, but put them in your own words.

Dear Representative or Senator ___________________________,

As the CEO of the ____________________, located in __________________, I am writing to urge your support of the Space Flight Informed Consent Act coming before you this legislative session. This act will make a small change to New Mexico’s liability laws. It will provide protection to the manufacturers and suppliers of parts for commercial space travel, or space tourism. Unlike Texas, Florida, Colorado and Virginia, New Mexico currently does not protect these manufacturers and suppliers from lawsuits. As a result, space companies like mine are locating to other states instead of New Mexico, threatening the Spaceport’s ability to attract tenants and survive as a hub of space industry.

This act is crucial to my company’s success in New Mexico. We send experiments into space by attaching them to rockets. This process is expensive because often times we have to launch outside of New Mexico. If the Spaceport begins launching commercial space flights, we could attach our experiments to these flights and save thousands of dollars. What’s more, we could hire additional people in New Mexico to facilitate these launches. But, we won’t launch at the Spaceport if we aren’t protected from lawsuits. And, we’re not the only ones. There are hundreds of companies like ours that will hesitate to launch in New Mexico if a law is not passed to protect them.

The Spaceport could fail if we don’t change the space flight liability laws. This change in law
won’t cost New Mexico taxpayers a dime. It doesn’t affect the rights of anybody who’s not
involved in space flight. It is purely an issue of the informed consent of passengers themselves. Our laws must be as competitive as other states otherwise we’ll see the
commercial space industry go elsewhere. That would be a major loss for the Spaceport, New
Mexico and my company.

Please help us keep the Spaceport alive by voting in favor of the Space Flight Informed Consent Act.

Sincerely,

Henry Adams
CEO, _____________________
Address, City, State
XXX-XXX-XXXX

TALKING POINTS
Use these talking points for your letters and visits, but put them in your own words.

New Mexico’s future as the hub of commercial space flight is in serious jeopardy due to its
space flight liability laws. Unlike four other competing space states, New Mexico does not
protect space flight manufacturers and suppliers from lawsuits. This deficiency could cause
space companies to locate to other states.

Other states have changed their laws to steal the commercial space industry from our state.
Colorado, Texas, Florida and Virginia have passed laws in the last two years to remove
liability from manufacturers and suppliers in addition to operators.

It is imperative for the competitiveness and success of the Spaceport that in the next
legislative session, New Mexico’s law be brought into parity with its main space competitors.

The impact is no longer theoretical. Over the past year, several leading space companies
have, after considering Spaceport America, chosen to locate their operations or
manufacturing facilities in other states – sending investment and jobs elsewhere that should
have gone to New Mexico.

We need the Spaceport to thrive, to have operators like Virgin Galactic and Armadillo
Aerospace operating there, plus new space manufacturers and suppliers. We need other
companies to locate in state in order to make it a hub of tourism, space travel, education
and commercial ventures.

After a huge $209 million investment by New Mexico in the Spaceport, it needs a change
in law to thrive. We have come so far, and now we need to ensure the success of the
Spaceport with this new law.

The Spaceport could die without this change with the law. Help us keep the Spaceport
alive!

Please support the Space Flight Informed Consent Act.

  • http://ISPCS.com Pat

    Thanks Doug and any other supports of human commercial Spaceflight. The letter below will only work right now with New Mexico State Legislators. No need to send anything to Washington as this is a state issue. However, should other states want to get into the human Spaceflight business, they will need this legislation.
    Happy New Year to all.