N.M. gov. signs space travel liability bill; liability now extended to suppliers

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Apr 4, 2013

SANTA FE, N.M. (Legal Newsline) -- New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation Tuesday expanding existing liability protections for spaceflight operators to include manufacturers and suppliers.

The New Mexico Expanded Space Flight Informed Consent Act -- passed unanimously by the state's legislature -- prevents lawsuit abuse and addresses the inherent risks of space flight.

Martinez said the measure will ensure New Mexico's Spaceport America remains at the forefront of a nationally-competitive and rapidly-growing commercial space industry.

"We are not only reaffirming the major commitment New Mexicans have made to Spaceport America but we now have an even stronger opportunity to grow the number of commercial space jobs at the spaceport and across our state," the governor said in a statement.

Spaceport America, the world's first purpose-built, commercial spaceport, is located in New Mexico's Sierra County, about 55 miles north of Las Cruces.

"This legislation will prevent lawsuit abuse and make it easier for businesses related to the space travel industry to thrive and succeed right here in New Mexico," Martinez said.

"After calling for this legislation in 2012 and again in my State of the State address this year, I'm pleased to be able to sign this bill into law today."

According to The Associated Press, British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America have been fighting for years to get the legislation passed.

In fact, last year Virgin Galactic hinted it could possibly abandon its plans to launch its $200,000-a-person flights from the state if the measure failed to pass this year, the AP reported.

Building on existing legislation passed in 2010, which covered only spaceflight operators like Virgin Galactic, the new law provides coverage to both operators and their supply chain during the critical early years of the industry's development.

The enhancement -- which costs taxpayers nothing, Martinez noted -- still allows legal options for spaceflight participants in cases of willful, wanton or reckless disregard, while creating an environment that enables New Mexico to more successfully recruit and retain commercial space tenants and customers for human spaceflight operations at Spaceport America.

"The Spaceport has the potential to be a major economic driver for New Mexico and it's absolutely critical that we do everything we can to encourage its success," said state Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate.

State Rep. James White, R-Albuquerque, agreed.

"This bill will allow the commercial space industry to continue to make a home in New Mexico and add jobs to our state," said White, who carried the measure in the House.

"This has been a pressing need for some time and it was essential that we addressed this issue during the legislative session, not just to keep Virgin Galactic here in New Mexico, but to allow other, smaller businesses related to the space industry to thrive as well."

New Mexico Spaceport Authority, or NMSA, thanked lawmakers and the governor for support the bill.

"The passage of this expanded liability protection is extremely important to the future of New Mexico's leadership position in the commercial space industry, and demonstrates the appreciation and strong support by our governor for the cutting edge space technology and the associated jobs that will come to our state," NMSA Executive Director Christine Anderson said in a statement.

"With this protection enacted, NMSA is now ready and able to get back to the business of building the commercial space industry here in New Mexico.

"I would like to also emphasize that Spaceport America is open for business."

According to the Governor's Office, Spaceport America has already created more 1,100 construction jobs in New Mexico.

Spaceport America also is generating "consistent" revenues for the state following the commencement of rent on the 20-year lease of the spaceport's main terminal hangar facility, signed with Virgin Galactic in 2008, Martinez noted.

According to the NMSA, it is working "closely" with leading aerospace firms Virgin Galactic, Lockheed Martin, Moog-FTS and UP Aerospace and their customers, NASA and the Department of Defense, to develop commercial spaceflight at the new facility.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

More News

The Record Network