Spaceport America officials say success depends on proposed bill

Officials pushing for expanded liability protection

POSTED: 07:00 PM MST Jan 09, 2013    UPDATED: 08:32 PM MST Jan 14, 2014 
LAS CRUCES, N.M. -

Spaceport America officials say the $209 million project could fail if the state does not protect spacecraft parts suppliers.

Spaceport officials and Virgin Galactic, its main tenant, are pushing for the state to pass an expanded informed consent bill.

It's basically a waiver that provides immunity from lawsuits for spacecraft parts suppliers and others connected with the creation of those ships.

"The goal is to be totally self-supporting so we do not require any more funding from the taxpayer. In order to do that, we need more tenants and more customers," said Spaceport America Executive Director Christine Anderson.

Anderson told ABC-7 potential tenants are turning away from New Mexico not because of the spaceport itself, but because of the lack of protection.

"It's basically protecting an emerging industry because there will be higher risk in space travel in the beginning and one huge lawsuit will wipe out the whole industry," she said.

The law is modeled after Texas' spaceflight informed consent law. That law protects the spacecraft operators and the parts suppliers as well as the directors, shareholders, partners and employees.

"It only applies to spacecraft passengers so for example Virgin Galactic has six passengers at a time, it only applies to them. They're given a waiver if you will that says they aren't going to sue, assuming if an accident happens and it's not gross negligence or misconduct," Anderson said.

Taxpayers in New Mexico have already invested more than $200 million.

"It would be a shame to let that investment go to waste," Las Crucen Bill Kandoll said.

"They've spent so much money and it's all of the taxpayers' money and all the people that have already put money into going into space, so what's going to happen with that? I just think they should try to go through with it," Las Crucen Susanna Martinez said.

In the past, opposition to this kind of bill has come from fears that this kind of liability waiver would spread to other industries.

Anderson said the bill is very specific to the spaceflight industry only.

It will be introduced at the legislative session that starts next week.