GAO: FAA Evaluation of Commercial Launch Insurance Requirements Fell Short

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has failed to fully reevaluate insurance requirements for commercial space launches as required by law, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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UKSA to Move Ahead with Plan to Cap Third-Party Liability Limit

UK_space_agencyIn an effort to make the United Kingdom more competitive in space, the UK government is moving forward with a plan to cap third-party liability for spacecraft operators at €60 million ($99 million) for the majority of space missions.

Under the Outer Space Act of 1986, operators must purchase at least €60 million ($99 million) of third-party liability insurance for a satellite’s launch and orbital operational phases in most cases. However, they must indemnify the UK government for an unlimited amount of damages above the insurance limit.

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House Science Committee Approves Commercial Space Launch Liability Indemnification Extension

Capitol Building
UPDATE:  The full House approved the measure by a vote of 376 to 5. So, it’s now a matter of whether Congress will approve the House’s 1-year extension or a 3-year extension being promoted by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

The House Science Committee has approved a one-year extension of the launch liability indemnification law. Under the measure, commercial launch providers must cover third-party losses up to $500 million. The government will step in to pay any losses from $500 million to $1.5 billion. Anything above that level reverts back to the company.

The measure now goes to the full House.  Sen. Bill Nelson is working on his own bill for a three-year extension of the liability law. Those measure will have to be reconciled in a conference committee.

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Jerry Brown Signs California’s Commercial Space Liability Bill

Gov. Jerry Brown

SACRAMENTO (Gov. Brown’s Office) -– Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today signed a bill to boost the commercial space-travel sector in California. Assembly Bill 2243 (Knight) limits liability for space-flight companies.

“California aerospace pioneers like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and the Spaceship Company are blazing a path to the stars with commercial space travel,” said Governor Brown. “This bill allows commercial space-travel companies to innovate and explore without the worry of excessive liability.”

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Spaceport America Board Seeks Limited Liability Law for Suppliers


The Las Cruces Sun-News reports on a crucial effort to expand New Mexico’s limited liability law for commercial spaceflights:

Spaceport America’s future hinges upon a proposed change in the law being pitched for next year’s Legislature, spaceport officials contended Tuesday.

The measure would limit legal liability for companies supplying parts for spaceflight equipment and vehicles, said New Mexico Spaceport Authority executive director Christine Anderson.

The bill would prevent passengers of Virgin Galactic suborbital spaceflights from suing the supplier companies if something malfunctions, Anderson. She said the legislation wouldn’t, however, prohibit them from suing in the event of gross negligence or an intentionally caused problem.

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority board on Wednesday voted unanimously to back the proposed legislation.

Spaceport Authority board member Sid Gutierrez, a former astronaut, expressed support for the proposal.

“I think the Legislature needs to understand this is ‘make or break’ legislation,” he said, speaking by teleconference during the meeting.

Informed Consent Measure Advances in Texas, Delegation Lobbies Florida Legislature

Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center

In Texas, an informed consent bill that would require spaceflight participants to sign waivers acknowledging the risks they face has passed the Senate by a 31-0 bill. The measure, which now heads to the House, gives commercial space operators protections from being sued in the event of injuries or deaths resulting from flights.

Meanwhile, Apollo moon walker Charlie Duke and shuttle astronaut Kay Hire were part of a 70-member delegation that descended upon Tallahassee yesterday to lobby for more financial and legislative support for the Florida Space Coast’s ailing economy.

The group lobbied lawmakers in favor of Space Florida’s $10 million budget and a series of incentives intended to lure new businesses to the state, which faces massive layoffs as a result of the end of NASA’s space shuttle program. The fate of those measures remain uncertain as the Legislature struggles to close a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.