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.