The Albuquerque Journal reported today that former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who helped push through development of that state’s new commercial spaceport, is going to be supporting the interests of another facility. Richardson will be hired by the Mojave Air and Space Port in California to help build support for an expanded version of an “informed consent” law that the California legislature passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law, earlier this year. The bill is similar to legislation in several other states that indemnifies spaceflight operators from legal actions over accidents that injure or kill spaceflight participants (except in the case of negligence or intentional harm), provided the customers sign an “informed consent” waiver.
The move has understandably raised some eyebrows in New Mexico, as noted in the Journal article. Officials with both Mojave and New Mexico’s Spaceport America say they are not direct competitors with each other: Mojave sees itself as more of an R&D facility while Spaceport America plans to be an operational spaceport with Virgin Galactic as its anchor customer.
However, Richardson has already done some work for the Mojave spaceport. At the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight earlier this month in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Mojave Air and Space Port general Manager Stu Witt said he hired Richardson earlier this year to convince Brown to sign the original version of the informed consent law when it appeared that the governor wouldn’t act on it. “Mr. Richardson had asked for my help many times in the past, has been to my office a number of times,” Witt said during a conference session. “We were in this for the development of the industry.”
Witt mentioned that he also called upon a number of others in the industry for help in persuading Brown to sign the bill, from Paul Allen to Sir Richard Branson to Elon Musk. The lobbying effort worked: not only did Brown sign the bill last month, he did so in a signing ceremony timed to the flyover of the state capitol by the 747 carrying the shuttle Endeavour, bound for Los Angeles.
As it turns out, both states are now in similar positions: while they have informed consent laws on the books, representatives of the space industry in both are seeking to amend those laws to make them more comprehensive so they also include vehicle suppliers. “You can’t amend a law until you have a law,” Witt said at the ISPCS session. Efforts to amend the California legislation, with the support of Richardson, will begin next year. “We have momentum on our side. We captured the attention of the governor.”
In New Mexico, spaceport supporters, including Richarson’s successor, Susana Martinez, will make a second attempt next year to amend that state’s informed consent law to include suppliers. An effort earlier this year to amend the law died in the state legislature because of opposition from trial lawyers.
Update 11/1: Parabolic Arc reports that, contrary to the Albuquerque Journal article, the Mojave Air and Space Port has no plans to hire Richardson. Witt did confirm that he hired Richardson in the summer to support efforts to get the original bill passed, paying the former governor $10,000. There are no plans, though, Witt told the airport’s board of directors, to hire Richardson again.