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Legislators: 'Spaceport America Could Become a Ghost Town'

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the contract-negotiations-underway-with-actual-ghosts dept.

Government 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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143 comments

Why not? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42477689)

It'll just go the way of the rest of American industry. What's the big deal as long as I have my ObamaPhone?

Re:Why not? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42477965)

It'll just go the way of the rest of American industry. What's the big deal as long as I have my ObamaPhone?

Yep, we sure as shit can't go around telling big banks or energy companies that they aren't allowed to endanger the livelihoods of millions of Americans, but if one more fucking poor person buys a smartphone we are cancelling the constitution and going home!

Re:Why not? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478397)

Wow. You've been duped. The government is telling the banks and energy companies what they can do. You're just getting the short end of the stick. Are you really that out of touch that you can't see that your elected "leadership" is part of the 1% making a killing? Are you really that far out of the loop that you think that if they wanted to make things work out for the citizens that they just couldn't do that? Hundreds of exective orders later and you're still thinking that Obama can't work his will?
 
Wow. Just wow.

Re:Why not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478543)

What's the big deal as long as I have my ObamaPhone?

Another loony right winger whining who seems to actually believe the silly things that is said by reactionary blowhards such as Rush Limbaugh. It was George Bush who extended an depression era 'free phone' program for the poor to include cell phones.

Re:Why not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478671)

Excuse me genius, is "right winger" supposed to be some kind of insult?

Do you understand that most conservatives do not think of George Bush being much of a conservative at all? Do you? Do you understand that most conservatives do not listen to Rush?

Do you actually have an argument you wish to make or are you content just to lash out with non sequiturs and call names? Pretty pathetic if you ask me.

Re:Why not? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42479217)

Amazing, a conservative Republican renouncing someone after he's no longer useful, we haven't heard this before. IIR the vote for Prsident Bush fell along party lines, with conservatives voting him in. You voted him in, you nominated him, he's yours. The "liberals" got Al Gore, Kerry, Kennedy and Obama each with their own issues. You don't just get to say he's not ours because it's inconvenient to your belief system. Most conservatives don't listen to Rush? Right...and Fox News isn't the #1 conservative news source. I'm fairly certain most non-partisan people don't consider descriptive words as insults, though it's possible that it can be construed as that. We have a predetermined right and left wing of our political spectrum, so calling someone right winger or left winger isn't generally a major insult. Sarcastic use of the word genius, would however be ironically insulting.

His point, since it seems to alude you, is that being a reactionary, hyperbolic windbag by using a known false statement that is used as a talking point has no place in this discussion as it is irrelevant to the point at hand. The discussion was about Spaceports and regulation, not about whether or not the government was providing federal benefits to poor people so they could have a reasonable chance at getting gainful employment.

I'm tired of partisan bickering getting in the way of real issues, isn't about time we had some adult populace in the room that didn't sneer and start choosing what was best for their side as soon as an issue is found. Sometimes being an adult means you're wrong or you have to take responsibility even if it's not your fault or your problem. It's amazing that when the President and John Boehner worked so hard to get something together that typical partisan garbage can unwind what the entire country wants. If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work fixing what we know is broken. It's up to us to do it, even if that means we end up getting dirty and doing things we don't like or that go against our normal political motivations.

Re:Why not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42479393)

At what point is 'being or not a conservative' germane to a discussion of who is really 'responsible' for what you(?) call an Obamaphone? However, since you bring it up, at what point did you decide that he wasn't really a conservative? I spent years complaining that his (and the rest of the GOP actions) proved that he wasn't a real fiscal conservative, but never saw any traction on it. Seems to me that throughout his presidency he was considered plenty conservative by most who claim that word as a personal description (really, it's more of a brand name these days), can you show me any self described conservative that made that claim before 2008?

Also, your point about 'calling names' would stand out better if you didn't (I assume sarcastically) call me a 'genius' and yes 'right winger' is an insult ('loony' is an unneeded adjective).

Re:Why not? (1)

publiclurker (952615) | about a year ago | (#42479551)

It's not calling names, it's pointing out facts. Of course, you wouldn't man up to the truth any more than a skinhead would admit to being a bigoted waste of skin.

Re:Why not? (3, Informative)

sunking2 (521698) | about a year ago | (#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.

Suspicous (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42477723)

Isn't it terribly convenient that, on the cusp of commercial spaceflight really taking a step forward a commercial spaceflight centre is threatened by legal action.

Re:Suspicous (1)

alen (225700) | about a year ago | (#42477847)

so who is responsible if the rocket crashes into someone's home?

Re:Suspicous (3, Insightful)

Lisias (447563) | about a year ago | (#42477983)

A crashing rocket can fall over the entire America, not only New Mexico.

I'm sure I'm far from 100% right, but as far as I know, rockets commonly explodes on lauchpad, or are emergency destroyed a few kilometers high, when the debris fall out over a relatively small (and manageable) area.

There're exceptions, as the two Space Shuttle accidents. But IMHO, people living near an prosaic airport are far more endangered than the guys at New Mexico.

However, crashing rockets are not the only problem a spaceport (and its neighborhood) can suffer.

Re:Suspicous (3, Informative)

the gnat (153162) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:Suspicous (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42480407)

They also lacked a proper destruct and safety system, when it went grossly off course they had no ability to destroy it.

Re:Suspicous (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42477995)

who's responsible when a plane crashes into someone's home?

also, it just so happens that the space port is in a very rural part of the state and the south east portion of new mexico is part of the white sands missile test range

Re:Suspicous (1)

jacknifetoaswan (2618987) | about a year ago | (#42479461)

I echo this sentiment. I've been to WSMR (White Sands Missile Range) for work, and it's deserted (no pun intended). There's nothing of consequence for like 50 miles!

Re:Suspicous (1)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about a year ago | (#42478021)

I imagine that falls on the insurance of the operating company.

It sounds like this is about liability for travelers to space. As the article quotes Sen. Smith, âoeWhen you buy a ski ticket, you waive your right to sue the ski operator if certain rules are properly followedâ¦. When you buy a ticket to go to space, you willingly assume all of the risk.â

Re:Suspicous (3, Interesting)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year ago | (#42478055)

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."

Re:Suspicous (5, Interesting)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year ago | (#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.

Rocket are not reliable enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42480165)

For an industry which is mature enough that it does not expldoe or come back crashing down on you about 5% of the time, you can reduce the logn tail reliability. But an industry like rocket ? Forget it.

Re:Suspicous (2)

MysteriousPreacher (702266) | about a year ago | (#42478061)

so who is responsible if the rocket crashes into someone's home?

It seems to be more about liability for accidents affecting passengers. Reading the article and various ones linked from it, I didn't see any mention of general immunity for any kind of accident. They compare it to the waivers given for bungee jumping and similar. To use that comparison, I assume that a bungee jump operator could be sued if they sent a customer crashing in to somebody's house.

Re:Suspicous (1)

RocketAcademy (2708739) | about a year ago | (#42479901)

It seems to be more about liability for accidents affecting passengers.

That's exactly the case, except that they're called "spaceflight participants," not "passengers." To regulators, these terms have very specific meanings.

Re:Suspicous (1)

spasm (79260) | about a year ago | (#42479611)

Gravity. In fact, given the number of injuries and deaths caused by gravity every year, it's long past time we sued it out of existence.

Re:Suspicous (3, Funny)

sycodon (149926) | about a year ago | (#42478097)

As soon as they can fire the first rocket, they need to gather ALL the members of the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association and load them up and shoot them into orbit...forever or until they burn up in the atmosphere.

Re:Suspicous (1)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | about a year ago | (#42479015)

As soon as they can fire the first rocket, they need to gather ALL the members of the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association and load them up and shoot them into orbit...forever or until they burn up in the atmosphere.

I would make that for ALL lawyers.

Re:Suspicous (1)

xxdelxx (551872) | about a year ago | (#42479557)

But you have to start somewhere. The New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association seems to be as good a start point as any. Ideally we need some objective metrics so that we can gauge the quality of life improvements for humans when various lawyer sub-species are reduced. Note I don't support extinction - leaving some around as an object lesson for future generations is, I think, required. The real question is - can we then jettison that portion of politicians which aren't (failed or otherwise) lawyers?

Re:Suspicous (1)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | about a year ago | (#42479633)

The real question is - can we then jettison that portion of politicians which aren't (failed or otherwise) lawyers?

Depends on if they actually have been useful in their position, with a qualifier that if they are a career politician that's an automatic jettison.

Engineering affects lives (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42477791)

Of course you should be liable if a poorly designed rocket crashes into your home, explodes and kills you.

Let's compromise (3, Funny)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year ago | (#42477835)

Complete the port and then shoot the trial lawyers into space.

Re:Let's compromise (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478079)

And if it blows up, they will sue over it,

Re:Let's compromise (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478433)

Better make sure they exceed escape velocity.
We don't want them back.

Yep there goes our civilization (5, Insightful)

Whatsmynickname (557867) | about a year ago | (#42477839)

And this folks is precisely why we never get anything done anymore... Between the lawyers / politicians / managers who "just want to get along", we will just sit here and spin our wheels until our society falls apart.

Correction (2)

PhxBlue (562201) | about a year ago | (#42478025)

And this folks is precisely why we never get anything done anymore...

No, this is why New Mexico apparently isn't serious about having a spaceport. I know Colorado already has a robust space industry and would probably welcome the opportunity to host a spaceport if New Mexico doesn't want to do it.

Re:Correction (1)

jacknifetoaswan (2618987) | about a year ago | (#42479513)

Colorado is too far north to take advantage of the low latitude that gives rockets a greater velocity. You wouldn't want to launch from that far north, unless you had no other option.

Re:Correction (1)

PhxBlue (562201) | about a year ago | (#42480349)

Should be fine for polar orbital launches, though, right? A lot of satellites could take advantage of that, particularly reconnaissance satellites, weather satellites and GPS (whose satellites aren't polar, though most of them follow a non-equitorial orbit).

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478145)

Unless you have an MBA, law degree, or working in Washington DC as a political, you are shit. Society rewards those that either game the system or work for those that do.

There will be an American "French Revolution" come soon. You can bet your ass on that!

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (4, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | about a year ago | (#42478163)

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.

Allow me to translate:
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 subsidies for manufacturers and part suppliers, similar to subsidies already passed by Texas, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia.

Virgin is asking to be protected from paying insurance on the full cost of the risk it is creating.
I'm not saying I'm against it, just that we should call this "protection" what it is: socializing the risks and privatizing the profits.

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (1)

frosty_tsm (933163) | about a year ago | (#42478337)

If it was purely a monetary subsidy, why would the trial lawyers be fighting it (since they could get paid either way)?

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (1)

Lashat (1041424) | about a year ago | (#42478453)

They don't get paid if they don't have any gray area to litigate with. IANAL and only read the linked article, but that indicates the fuss is over protecting the manufacturing, parts, and supply chain as well as the operator of the space flight.

If a contract is made with the operator to launch a satellite there must be a defined responsibile party if the rocket blows up destroying the payload and perhaps raining death and destruction onto the ground.

Failing parts or operational failures are not "acts of God" and someone should will have to pay. I am guessing they should refer to how the BP oil spill liability shook out in the end. Good and Bad.

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about a year ago | (#42478749)

If it was purely a monetary subsidy, why would the trial lawyers be fighting it (since they could get paid either way)?

Subsidies do not have to be direct cash transfers.
Tax breaks, liability indemnification, accelerated depreciation, loan guarantees, tariffs, regulatory exemptions, etc etc etc

In this case, the trial lawyers want to sue as many people as possible if a passenger dies,
and Virgin is saying that there needs to be legal immunity for all the companies involved in manufacturing and launching.

If States in the USA weren't engaged in a regulatory race to the bottom, Virgin would probably be forced to indemnify its contractors.
Instead, I'm guessing New Mexico will pass laws granting immunity to everyone involved, which is a subsidy, no doubt about it.

But this may be what's required to get private space travel off the ground, much like the custom regulatory regime created for the nascent nuclear industry.

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (2)

Solandri (704621) | about a year ago | (#42478851)

Virgin is asking to be protected from paying insurance on the full cost of the risk it is creating.

Read TFA:

Smith said the protections being proposed in the new legislation are similar to those which New Mexico offers to the ski industry. âoeWhen you buy a ski ticket, you waive your right to sue the ski operator if certain rules are properly followedâ¦. When you buy a ticket to go to space, you willingly assume all of the risk.â

It's not a subsidy. It's a simple disclaimer that space launches are known to be risky, and the buyer of the ticket assumes all the risk and cannot sue in the event of death or injury (presumably as long as Virgin Galactic follows certain safety rules established by the government).

If skiing or being launched into space were required parts of life, then I'd agree you don't want to limit the legal liability. But they're optional leisure activities. If someone wants to take high risks in their optional activities, then more power to them. Just don't try to pin the blame on someone else if something goes wrong. Virgin isn't creating the risk. The people wanting to do the activity are. Virgin is simply providing them a means to conduct the activity.

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (1)

stenvar (2789879) | about a year ago | (#42479067)

Your translation is erroneous. There are no "subsidies", not even in the form of assumption of risk or exemption from liability.

Instead, our liability laws are so out of whack that even if you are a billionaire, knowingly engage in risky behavior, pay for the privilege, acknowledge this in writing, and absolve everybody from liability, you can then turn around and still sue everybody even if they did exactly what they promised they would do.

Who is responsible for this? People like you, people who can't turn off their ideological blinders for a moment to take a rational look at what's going on around them. Ironically, it's often the same people who complain about the consequences of their ill-chosen policies (in this case, lots of stupid lawsuits).

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (5, Informative)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year ago | (#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:Yep there goes our civilization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42479999)

(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.)

Do you have a source for any of your claims? No company publishes their rates, and the best I can find are purely anecdotal accounts (and even those are from as long ago as 2005).

I'd appreciate if you have any actual evidence behind your assertions, because otherwise you are coming off just as "not even wrong".

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42479389)

But "the full cost of the risk" here is caused by government too.
Because it's not about risk of actual harm; it's about risk of lawsuits.
I'm no Libertarian, but this company is asking for an exemption to an artifical cost imposed by bad government.

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (1)

ljw1004 (764174) | about a year ago | (#42479995)

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 subsidies for manufacturers and part suppliers, similar to subsidies already passed by Texas, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia.

Virgin is asking to be protected from paying insurance on the full cost of the risk it is creating.
I'm not saying I'm against it, just that we should call this "protection" what it is: socializing the risks and privatizing the profits.

Your phrase "risk it is creating" is incorrect. The cost here is an artificial cost invented by regulatory framework. It arises from the inability in this area to form contracts of the form "if we follow the following procedures them you agree not to sue us." The risk is real, but legislation has artificially inflated it, and they're asking legislation to ease off so the risk has its true free-market cost.

Perhaps just USA civilization? (1)

fantomas (94850) | about a year ago | (#42478401)

"And this folks is precisely why we never get anything done anymore."

I think this is mostly a USA-specific curse, so the business will just go elsewhere. You do seem to be rather plagued by lawyers, and citizens ready to sue for millions/quadra-tetra-billions at the first whiff of a split hot coffee or cracked paving slab that might cause them emotional damage.

So I think it will just be to the detriment of the USA and not necessarily anywhere else. Though to be fair we do seem to be having more of this kind of legal madness occurring in Europe these days as well, so perhaps space will be Asian based in the future?

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a year ago | (#42478467)

Thousands of government projects a year get done successfully is now 'never get anything done anymore.'

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478699)

*Until* it falls apart?

Re:Yep there goes our civilization (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about a year ago | (#42479961)

USA badly needs some depussification if it is going to compete with China and other emerging economies in the long run. You have to take some risks every once in a while but you can't do that if there is a pack of lawyers watching like hawks and waiting for your slightest mistake to sue you out of business. Our extreme obsession with safety will lead to our destruction.

It sounds like more (1, Insightful)

mark_reh (2015546) | about a year ago | (#42477893)

corporate welfare to me, the cost of which is borne by the tax payers.

If the business can't generate enough cash flow to pay the liability insurance bill, maybe the business shouldn't exist.

Re:It sounds like more (3, Informative)

NigelTheFrog (1292406) | about a year ago | (#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:It sounds like more (1)

mark_reh (2015546) | about a year ago | (#42478635)

California has been playing this game for so long their public schools have turned to crap because there's no tax money to pay for them. Every time a state cuts a corporate welfare deal or tax break someone else gets screwed, usually kids and/or the poor.

Re:It sounds like more (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year ago | (#42479573)

California is also the state where a burglar climbed up to the roof of a two-story building, broke through a skylight, climbed down a rope, burgled the building (IIRC it was the LA School District Education Department or some such), and fell as he was climbing back up the rope, breaking his back. He successfully sued the District for (IIRC) $2 million for not making the skylight burglar proof. (This happened when I lived in Newport Beach in the early 1980s.)

Establishing the ground rules for what is reasonably considered grounds for and limits of liability for a new industry in the state such as space launches is not corporate welfare, it is an essential part of the state (NM) becoming a member of the community of states that support the industry. Without it, anyone who can conceive of some inane or insane grounds for asserting harm as a result of a space launch could bankrupt the company, and perhaps the insurer. It has happened in other industries. Proper ground rules mean that if a _real_ harm occurs, then something approximating a reasonable and fair payment can be determined.

Re:It sounds like more (2)

TheCarp (96830) | about a year ago | (#42478185)

I tend to agree. Moreover... I would say there are two concerns that i have here, neither of which lead me to think "An exception is in order".

1. Perhaps, as you say, they should be able to pay for liability or go out of business. This assumes there is nothing wrong with the law thats stupidly making this impossible.

or...

2. They mention laws for ski slopes. Which beggs the question... why so ski slopes need it? The article says:

âoeWhen you buy a ski ticket, you waive your right to sue the ski operator if certain rules are properly followedâ¦. When you buy a ticket to go to space, you willingly assume all of the risk.â

This doctrine sounds entirely reasonable. As long as the operaters are doing everything reasonable to make things safe, its silly to hold them liable for issues that were not within their control or not known to be issues. Clearly this shouldn't indemnify them for ignoring issues, or cutting corners, but....

Why do we need special laws to make special cases to legislate the fact that some activities (many really) have inherent risks that are not reasonably within anyones control? It seems like, if they need legislation for this, they have already fucked up.

Re:It sounds like more (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year ago | (#42479619)

It's not just the passengers - it's also the guy who sues for $1 million claiming that the rocket exhaust caused his asthma to flare up, necessitating a hospital stay and the loss of his job - even though he lives 200 miles upwind from the spaceport and the rocket launched the day after his asthma problem occurred. Virgin settles for $100,000 to avoid going to court and having an idiot jury award $1 million. Now multiply that times 2 million people in New Mexico.

Re:It sounds like more (1)

RocketAcademy (2708739) | about a year ago | (#42479985)

It's not just the passengers - it's also the guy who sues for $1 million claiming that the rocket exhaust caused his asthma to flare up,

No, it's not. This law does not affect third-party liability, which is already covered by FAA regulations and insurance requirements.

Re:It sounds like more (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478545)

That's a good libertarian attitude. The next step is obviously to cut tax rates to make up for the reduction in government funded R&D.

Re:It sounds like more (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year ago | (#42479417)

When anyone in the state can say "I smelled the rocket exhaust, and now my asthma is bothering me, and I had to go to the hospital" even though they live 200 miles away and upwind of the facility, and Virgin has to settle for $100,000 to avoid even higher legal costs, it's not a question of corporate welfare. It's a question of infusing some sanity into the legal system.

Without the legislation, the cost of liability insurance might well be several times the retail price of the product.

Liability reform of this sort in other states and at the federal level has been essential to the US space industry. This will just bring NM into that arena. Without it, NM will not have a spaceport; they will have a fancy parking lot in the middle of nowhere.

How to become a millionaire in private space (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42477935)

Start as a billionaire. As much as I think "private space" is a joke and a stunt for rich people and will never be the Star Trek utopia sci-fi nerds think it will be, I think lawyers are a hundred times worse.

Let private space fail on its own, it doesn't need "help" from bottom-feeding sociopathic scum.

If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (5, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#42477969)

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. [abqjournal.com] More recently, there was that bogus empty test city in the desert [economicde...menthq.com] project. New Mexico keeps trying to monetize all that desert, but it's not working.

Re:If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (1)

PhxBlue (562201) | about a year ago | (#42478057)

After more than half a century of big rockets, they still crash far too often.

Do you have a citation to back up your claim? United Launch Alliance has a pretty good record, from what I recall. Who else launches rockets, and what are their failure rates?

Re:If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478169)

United Launch Alliance has a pretty good record

Asking for citations for someone's assertion and providing none for your own assertion = FAIL.

Re:If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (2)

PhxBlue (562201) | about a year ago | (#42478513)

Fair enough. Out of 56 launches, ULA has had one partial failure, in 2007 [nasaspaceflight.com]: the upper stage of an Atlas V rocket cut out early, so the NRO satellite didn't reach its proper orbit. That equates to a failure rate of less than 2 percent, so either someone's launching a lot of duds or the OP pulled the 5- to 10-percent figure out of his ass.

Re:If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (2)

jacknifetoaswan (2618987) | about a year ago | (#42479589)

And for that launch, the NRO considered the results to be a success, as they were able to work with the final orbits of the two satellites.

Re:If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (1)

0123456 (636235) | about a year ago | (#42478117)

After more than half a century of big rockets, they still crash far too often. About 5%-10% of satellite launches still fail.

Uh, no. A typical failure rate for a well-established launcher is 2%.

And many of those failures are 'well, we can't get to orbit any more so we might as well crash and burn' types that wouldn't apply to a manned launcher which can shut the engine down and fly back. Current unmanned satellite launchers aren't designed to bring the satellite back if something goes badly wrong, because the costs would outweigh the benefits.

Re:If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (4, Informative)

climb_no_fear (572210) | about a year ago | (#42478313)

This paper suggests between 0.2 and 3% for a well established rocket (i.e., the end of the learning curve).

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9780470714461.app11/pdf

Re:If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (1)

0123456 (636235) | about a year ago | (#42478347)

My post was supposed to say 'less than 2%', but Slashdot ate the less than sign.

Re:If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | about a year ago | (#42478221)

Your right, but...

Getting insurance for you satellite that's being launched on a well tested, commercial rocket it easy, just pay for it. If 5% are expected to fail, expect to pay a bit more than 5% of the value of the satellite. For 100% of the cost, you have a 5% chance of losing everything, for 105 + N% of the cost, you have a 0% chance of losing everything.

If you are the first to use a given launch system, the insurance company is going to set N to a large value. If the rocket has people on it, the insurance company can't use a fixed number for the value of the payload. People + 1st launch = extremely expensive insurance.

This is where a new law can step in and set the value of the payload. It might be 0. (the sucks to be you law). It might be 1x yearly earnings, thus you and I could get insurance for the launch, but Bill Gates couldn't.

Re:If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (2)

Solandri (704621) | about a year ago | (#42478665)

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 problem is that the liability for human fatalities scales based on rarity and how spectacular an accident is. You'd think a human life is a human life, so the liability for any death would be the same regardless of cause. But a mundane death is worth less from a legal liability standpoint than a spectacular death (especially if it's widely televised). A death caused by a car accident is worth less than a death caused by an airliner accident, and both will certainly be minuscule compared to a death caused by a space launch accident.

The accountants in the insurance industry are appraising the economic risk correctly. It's just that the economic risk of legal liability scales based on a nonsensical, emotional parameter.

Re:If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (1)

RocketAcademy (2708739) | about a year ago | (#42480135)

If affordable insurance isn't available from the private sector, the technology isn't safe enough for use by private parties.

"Private parties" are not allowed to decide for themselves what is and isn't safe enough?

Riding stables are protected by equine liability laws. So, I guess horses would be banned in your version of the nanny state? Or limited to the United States Cavalry?

Re:If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (2)

Quila (201335) | about a year ago | (#42480149)

There is a lot of legal liability limitation for airlines and airplane manufacturers, both in the US and internationally by treaty.

Re:If rockets worked, this wouldn't be a problem (1)

RocketAcademy (2708739) | about a year ago | (#42480241)

Boeing doesn't have legislation protecting them if one of their airliners crashes onto somebody's house.

So do rocket companies. You don't understand the difference between third-party liability and first/second-party.

There's a difference between sitting your house and having an airliner crash on it and going out to a spaceport and buying a ticket. One of those involves assumed risk. The other doesn't.

You wanna fuck up something? (1)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | about a year ago | (#42478121)

Get the lawyers involved.

Re:You wanna fuck up something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478441)

It'll get even better when the excess law school graduates who can't find jobs decide to form a union. With unionized lawyers, there's no telling how far we can fail.

Re:You wanna kill someone ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478931)

Get Richard Branson involved

Let me get this straight... (5, Interesting)

wierd_w (1375923) | about a year ago | (#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:Let me get this straight... (2)

wierd_w (1375923) | about a year ago | (#42478175)

[Clarification: I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. The above statement refers to the solidarity shown by said interest group in stonewalling the liability reform.]

Re:Let me get this straight... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42479131)

"And we are taking it.... seriously?"

"We" - not so much, but for the most part legislators have been taking such corporate-serving legislation very seriously for decades already. That we better do take seriously, if we don't want even more laws along the lines of "corporations are persons without the personal responsibility".

What responsibility are they trying to evade? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478407)

This leaves out the only critical information of interest- what kind of litigation for what cause are they trying to be exempt from?

Re:What responsibility are they trying to evade? (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about a year ago | (#42478541)

Given the examples cited in the article, it sounds like personal injury.

Eg, "by boarding this rocket, you acknowledge that rockets are inherently dangerous, and are taking your life into your own hands. Even perfectly built and maintained rockets sometimes blow up on the pad, or roast spacefarers alive inside the capsule. We are not responsible for your safety beyond what is within our limited capacity to provide, and you accept this by riding."

liability protection (2)

geekoid (135745) | about a year ago | (#42478409)

is bullshit.
Your shit blows up and damages something, then you are liable.

Re:liability protection (2)

wierd_w (1375923) | about a year ago | (#42478445)

From what I am reading, that isn't what they are asking for.

They are asking for this protection:

"If we perform every possible safety contingency available with our launch activities, and an accident occurs anyway, such as a cabin fire, or the like, we want mitigated liability via the use of passenger wavers."

Not "we want to shoot big bottle rockets, and not be liable for where they come down."

One is sensible. The other is not.

Re:liability protection (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about a year ago | (#42478835)

Virgin already has immunity.
They want a law extending that immunity to their suppliers and manufacturers.

This wasn't an issue until several other states passed laws immunizing everyone.

Re:liability protection (1)

RocketAcademy (2708739) | about a year ago | (#42479133)

Virgin already has immunity. They want a law extending that immunity to their suppliers and manufacturers.

Except that Virgin recently acquired The Spaceship Company. So, they are now the manufacturer as well.

Not the last time. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42478627)

It wouldn't be the first time lawyers have caused a little bit of trouble.

Speaking as said bottom feeding lawyer...... (1)

doubledown00 (2767069) | about a year ago | (#42478839)

.....we grant airplanes or automobile makers the same kind of liability. So why should this industry be granted the same? The examples used in the open letter, skiing, skydiving, and bungee jumping, are considered "extreme sports". They are activities with a certain degree of personal risk. Space travel should not be in the same category. What we are seeing here is an industry in its infancy. As such the pioneers are looking down the road and trying to head off substantive regulation. Right now many may consider space travel "risky" and in the class of extreme sports. I'm sure manned flight was viewed similarly in its early days. However it is no longer that today. Today air travel is generally safe and efficient. I don't see any reason why space travel could not be the same in 20 - 30 years. But if limited liability is granted now, it will be that much harder to retract years later. Also, this talk of regulation is moot anyway. It is only a matter of time before the Feds get involved and pre-empt all state regs.

Re:Speaking as said bottom feeding lawyer...... (1)

stenvar (2789879) | about a year ago | (#42479179)

But if limited liability is granted now, it will be that much harder to retract years later.

Granted? Are you serious? "Limited liability" isn't something that should have to be "granted". If I want to off myself in a spectacular way and pay for it, that is frankly none of your or the legislature's business. These kinds of liabilities should never have been created in the first place, except for circumstances where people inexperienced people mistakenly assume excessive risk.

And given the kind of knee-jerk way in which legislation gets passed, who are you kidding about this "it will be harder to retract later"? Liability will be imposed the first time some likable person dies in a rocket launch.

If space companies aren't exempted from this kind of liability, they are going to go to states or nations where the liability laws are still a bit saner than here.

Re:Speaking as said bottom feeding lawyer...... (1)

RocketAcademy (2708739) | about a year ago | (#42479221)

.....we grant airplanes or automobile makers the same kind of liability. So why should this industry be granted the same? The examples used in the open letter, skiing, skydiving, and bungee jumping, are considered "extreme sports". They are activities with a certain degree of personal risk. Space travel should not be in the same category. .

Roughly 1% of all human beings who've gone into space have died in the attempt. That is more extreme than skiing, skydiving, or bungee jumping -- or even professional rodeo.

Both the FAA and the United States Congress have declared that spaceflight is an "intrinsically dangerous activity."

Also, this talk of regulation is moot anyway. It is only a matter of time before the Feds get involved and pre-empt all state regs.

They are already are involved. That's why the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation exists. However, it isn't clear that liability for a spaceflight that begins and ends in New Mexico falls under the Interstate Commerce Clause.

I think this says all we need to know... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42479201)

" being fought by the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association."

Reminds me of ..... (1)

prasadsurve (665770) | about a year ago | (#42479351)

This quote from Lord of War.
"You know who's going to inherit the world? Arms dealers. Because everyone else is too busy killing each other."

It should instead be:
You know who's going to inherit the world? Lawyers. Because everyone else is too busy suing each other.

I'm alarmed by all the lawyer sniping (2)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about a year ago | (#42480191)

If one of these rockets comes crashing down on your head, you sure as hell aren't going to want the launcher to have special protections. And, if the shit comes down, a trial lawyer is going to be your only weapon against the megacorporations financing these launches.

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