States

New Mexico governor signs liability bill; Texas makes progress on space bills

After many months of drama, the end was rather anticlimactic. On Tuesday, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law the New Mexico Expanded Space Flight Informed Consent Act in a ceremony at Spaceport America in the southern part of the state. The bill extends the state’s existing commercial spaceflight liability indemnification to suppliers of companies who operate such vehicles. After a previous effort to extend that protection died in the legislature last year, Virgin Galactic, the anchor tenant for Spaceport America, suggested it might move elsewhere if the liability law wasn’t updated. Spaceport supporters and the state’s trial lawyers association, who had previously opposed such legislation, worked out a compromise that breezed through the state legislature.

“With this legislation in place, Spaceport America will continue to become one of our nation’s hubs for commercial spaceflight,” said Michael Lopez-Alegria, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, in a statement. That includes helping lure additional companies to the spaceport, something Virgin has been seeking for some time to take some of the burden of the spaceport’s operating costs off of it. The company told the AP that “all stakeholders must now turn their attention to the future and to recruiting additional companies to the spaceport to fulfill its full potential and maximize new job growth.”

Meanwhile, the Texas Legislature is considering bills that could help close the case for SpaceX to establish its planned commercial launch site in the state. On Monday a House committee took testimony on one bill that would amend the state’s “open beaches” laws. HB 2623 would allow county officials to close beaches for a launch, with exceptions for summer weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day, plus the Fourth of July. Another House committee last week favorably reported out HB 1791, which makes some tweaks to the state’s existing liability indemnification law. One provision states that “Noise arising from space flight activities… if lawfully conducted, does not constitute ‘unreasonable noise.’” A Texas Senate version of the bill, SB 1636, is slated for a public hearing today.

Speaking last month at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, Musk indicated that Texas was the leading candidate for SpaceX’s planned commercial launch site, although it is in competition with locations in Florida, Georgia, and elsewhere. He specifically cited the need for legislation to allow for beach closures during launches and “protection for the 1-in-10,000-person case who complains about the thing,” which the noise provision in one set of bills may cover.

30 comments to New Mexico governor signs liability bill; Texas makes progress on space bills

  • Robert G. Oler

    Coupled with reusability you can start to see how Musk envisions his business expanding…this will be great for South Texas and the US>… RGO

  • amightywind

    Incredible that the Texas coast is even being considered for a launch site. The downrange hazards are endless. What will the Jamaicans think about being bombarded with spent rocket stages?

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind wrote:

      What will the Jamaicans think about being bombarded with spent rocket stages?

      And why does Texas care what Jamaica thinks? Has Texas been assigned responsibility for our relations with Jamaica?

      I swear, the things you write sometimes…

    • Bennett In Vermont

      Especially if they are spiraling out of control.

      • Exactly. Those dogleg azimuths are fine when everything goes as planned. And when did Jamaica, Cuba, Mexico, et.al. give the U.S. FAA the authority to establish and enforce overflight safety requirements for rockets flying over their sovereign states?

        • It isn’t necessary for those countries to provide the FAA with such authority. Its authority comes from the OST and Liability convention, which makes the US government responsible for any damages arising from its space launch activities. The FAA would make a determination whether or not the government was taking on too great a liability from a launch before issuing a license. Give the speed of the IIP motion that far down range, the now-demonstrated reliability of the Falcon, the chances of anything hitting anything in those areas is probably substantially below the required EsubC of 2×10-6

          • At some point I’m betting these downrange nations will have to provide their concurrence, despite the EsubC calculation. And then there are the potential hazards and interference to Gulf maritime traffic, and the busy air corridors between the U.S. and Central America.

            • At some point I’m betting these downrange nations will have to provide their concurrence, despite the EsubC calculation.

              Nope. They have no say, or recourse, unless they’re actually harmed. Not that they won’t whine, of course.

              And then there are the potential hazards and interference to Gulf maritime traffic, and the busy air corridors between the U.S. and Central America.

              Minimal for the former, and almost non-existent for the latter. The rocket gets above the air corridors very quickly. Believe me, SpaceX wouldn’t have made as much investment in Texas as they already have if they thought that these issues could be show stoppers. You can bet they’ve already extensive discussions with FAA-AST for both spaceport and launch licensing.

              • Egad

                >>At some point I’m betting these downrange nations will have to provide their concurrence, despite the EsubC calculation.

                >Nope. They have no say, or recourse, unless they’re actually harmed. Not that they won’t whine, of course.

                It remains to be seen, but I’ll be somewhat surprised if Mexico makes much of a fuss, perhaps asks for assurances that existing agreements will be honored.

            • Robert G. Oler

              “And then there are the potential hazards and interference to Gulf maritime traffic, and the busy air corridors between the U.S. and Central America.”

              Simberg is correct here.

              There is exactly 1 (one) Victor/Jet and Q route that would be affected by SpaceX launching from “near Brownsville”

              Right after 9/11 Scooter Libby helped (sigh) rewrite the overfly exemptions for aircraft flying internationally. The rules regarding “overflight’ (meaning overflying a USCS “Port” and landing at an interior port) are complayable but they are tedious and even when you “comply” if the Passenger rack is different then the “list” well you cannot overfly.

              This put a ridiculous amount of pressure on Customs “ports” which were use to dealing with private planes but not large business jet traffic.

              So the FAA, which was still run by a Clinton holdover and relatively sane behind the scenes negotiated with the Mexican Air Traffic Control system to create a Victor/Jet and Q route which “starts” at a fix east of Matamoras (spell) Mexico so if you are hauling the BBJ from Cabo to Houston and the passengers you have are not on the overflight then you can bypass that silly condition and the first port you “hit” is Houston.

              The humor of this was not lost on a former President who calls Houston home and strangely enough could not get added to the overflight exemption in time to come back from a conference in Mexico City …I was doing the break in for the BBJ that was/is owned by a major company here in Houston, who loaned it to “their friend” and we (the former President and I) had a laugh about it as we sailed just east of SpaceX’s launch site (of course that was well before SpaceX was thinking of the idea) and he wanted to know why we were detouring… the head of the US Secret Service got a kick out of it as well.

              The Victor/Jet and Q route are used but SpaceX would have no difficulty with the infrequent closings…now would aviation..RGO

    • Dark Blue Nine

      There are multiple Atlantic azimuths out of the Brownsville launch site with only one or no doglegs that never go over Jamaica or any other land. See second post here:

      http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=28585.840

      • Those lines don’t tell the whole story. They’re fine if you’re driving a boat, but the debris dispersion cone (hazard area) for a launch vehicle gets larger as the altitude increases.

        • As the hazard area increases, the chance of anything in particular inside it being hit decreases. All of this is calculated in the launch licensing process. Dropping a stage on a remote mountaintop in Cuba would elicit a lot of pious whining from the Cuban government, but not require much in compensation.

          • True, but the hazard does not disappear altogether (there may be people on that mountaintop), and I’m sure the U.S. would have strong reservations if Cuba were to launch over Texas into retrograde orbit.

            • By “remote” I was implying that it was unpopulated (as much of Cuba actually is — population tends to be concentrated in cities). Cuba is actually similar population density to California, and most of California is empty. If you wanted to launch east from Vandenberg, your chances of dropping anything on anyone would actually be pretty small.

              I’m sure the U.S. would have strong reservations if Cuba were to launch over Texas into retrograde orbit.

              Of course they would, but all they could do is “have strong reservations.” If anything in Texas was actually damaged as a result, we could demand reparations, and if it looked deliberate, we could consider it an act of war. As a signatory of the OST (as of 1977) Cuba would be obligated under international law to make them.

              But short of shooting it down, there’s nothing that the US could do about it. We try to avoid overflight of populated nations in other areas to avoid potential liability, but if we’re willing to accept that liability, we don’t need their “permission” to do so. Overflying at that altitude doesn’t put us in their “air space,” based on precedents going all the way back to Sputnik.

              • I would call your views here “neoconservative.” I think our current administration might have a more geopolitically egalitarian approach to this issue. I foresee a potential Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse.

              • I would call your views here “neoconservative.”

                You can call them whatever you want, Edward. It doesn’t make them that (I tend to take people who even use that label, in any context, less seriously). I’m simply describing current international law and practice, established for over half a century.

              • It’s interesting to note that I ran some sims of a due-east Shuttle launch out of WTR back in the eighties, when we were looking at scenarios for an emergency low-inclination DoD flight if we’d lost the Cape for some reason. The SRBs would have landed in the Mojave near the ghost town of Randsburg.

              • JimNobles

                Edward Ellegood said, “I would call your views here “neoconservative.” I think our current administration might have a more geopolitically egalitarian approach to this issue.”

                Edward, listen to Rand. His aren’t “neoconservative” views, they are statements of legal fact. The OST (love it or hate it) actually addresses these issues quite well.

                Unless something truly extraordinary happens there’s no reason to expect a turn in geopolitics in this area.

                And there’s certainly no reason to expect a “Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse.” or anything like that.

    • Robert G. Oler

      When the Falcon is reusable the falling boosters will be coming back home! RGO

    • Neil Shipley

      Just a minor question for you AMW: What does ‘reusability’ mean?

    • Fred Willett

      The whole point of Musk’s efforts is to stop “bombarding” downrange areas with spent stages. That’s what reusability is all about.
      Besides a disposable first stage only ever goes a couple of hundred miles down range. It would fall far short of Jamacia. or any other land mass.

  • Interesting that Mr. Musk has put out the lure of a Texas launch site, while at the same time lobbying hard for the legislature’s support for selling Tesla cars in that state. http://yhoo.it/10wFC8h

    • JimNobles

      I noticed Musk is going after all state laws that would force dealers to sell his cars on the same lot as petrol powered models. I think he believes it would create a conflict of interest for the dealer.

      Also he seems to want, as much as possible, for the public to see his cars as differently as possible from the average automobile.

      That’s what it looks like to me.

  • vulture4

    It is astounding to me that NASA has refused to lease land to SpaceX. My sense is that they are hoping SpaceX will get desperate and agree to launch from LC-39. Fat chance.

    • vulture4 wrote:

      It is astounding to me that NASA has refused to lease land to SpaceX. My sense is that they are hoping SpaceX will get desperate and agree to launch from LC-39. Fat chance.

      NASA cannot lease federal land directly to SpaceX. They can lease to another government agency, in this case Space Florida.

      The problem is the Webb-McNamara agreement of January 1963, which governs the relationship between NASA and DoD at Cape Canaveral/Merritt Island. The agreement states that the Air Force controls all launches on “federal land” in the area. If NASA merely leases Shiloh to Space Florida, it is still “federal land” which means the Air Force has a say over SpaceX commercial launches. That’s what SpaceX is trying to avoid.

      Space Florida asked NASA to transfer the land to Space Florida so that Space Florida would be the land owner. It would no longer be “federal land.” NASA rejected giving the land to Space Florida but said it was open to other ideas.

      I read somewhere that NASA’s legal eagles are going to argue that Webb-McNamara simply doesn’t apply to commercial launches from NASA territory. Whether that will hold up, who knows.

      I can understand NASA’s reluctance to have an independent operation up the road over which it has no say. At the same time, the private sector doesn’t appear to be interested in using a half-century old legacy infrastructure at LC-39. It would take a lot of sweetheart-dealing to make LC-39 financially appealing to SpaceX for Falcon Heavy.

      • Florida Today has a great article today on the Shiloh situation and how it may be a make-or-break deal for the Space Coast economy:

        http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20130404/COLUMNISTS0207/304040062/Matt-Reed-Space-fate-turns-land

        • Robert G. Oler

          Stephen…this is a “great” article, its pretty thoughtful and to me it shows that “someone” gets it

          In the end what the various politicians of both parties are doing to their constituencies in terms of space policy is simply trying to hold back the “end times” not really attempting to evolve policy and other things to meet how reality is unfolding.

          The race is to get the market in launching larger and larger communications satellites AND evetually (sooner then later) the smaller more nimble DoD assets that are coming. (Hagel made a speech recently at the five sided building which is on topic here)

          Florida and Texas and other pols should be trying to push space policy and politics toward that reality; not simply redoing some 50 year old memories with Apollo

          anyway it is a good article. Robert

  • vulture4

    I agree. But a “sweetheart deal” seems unlikely unless Musk runs out of money. LC-39 has an extremely high overhead, difficult usage restrictions with the “government” program having priority, and is completely inappropriate for the Falcon, which is designed for horizontal integration.

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