ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Spaceport America officials are urging legislators to limit potential lawsuits from wealthy outer space tourists who take off from New Mexico, saying such a bill is crucial to the future of the project.
Legal experts, however, say there is no way to know whether the so-called informed consent laws will offer any protection to spacecraft operators and suppliers in the event something goes wrong.
"Since this has never happened yet, we have no precedent," said Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, director of the space law program at the University of Mississippi.
Such measures are being pushed by states trying to compete in the fledgling commercial space travel arena, and Spaceport America officials say that New Mexico risks losing out on a project that was intended to boost the economy in the mostly rural state.
They say New Mexico needs to pass a bill to retain anchor tenant Virgin Galactic and to recruit new space business to the state.
At issue is liability for passengers who pay to take spaceflights — like those planned by Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic for $200,000 a head — from the spaceport near the city of Truth or Consequences.
New Mexico lawmakers several years ago passed a bill that exempts Virgin Galactic from being sued by passengers in the event of an accident provided they have been informed of the risks. Officials have refused, however, to follow a handful of other states in expanding that exemption to suppliers.