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(Our guest blogger today is Dr. Richard Holtzin, one of the founding members of NMSTARG. He will be writing about the terrific opportunity New Mexico has in Spaceport America, and why it is important for the state to get the laws up-to-date. Organizations such as the Save Our Spaceport Coalition are helping to build support for these important upgrades to the law. And in other news, the regularly scheduled space program diary series will be continued next week with "Lunar Fuel." Stay tuned!)


Spaceport America may be facing an undignified closing before it's long awaited and touted opening! Principally, because Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic enterprise geared to space tourism program has still not launched its inaugural sub-orbital flight, and ultimately may never activate its innovative idea.

The reason why comes down to a basic matter of INFORMED CONSENT--actually a big matter also affecting other industries concerned with risk and liability factors. And rightly so.

To explain this conundrum (because we of the New Mexico STAR Group cannot fathom why the State of New Mexico has put the kibosh on a lucrative aerospace operation that is potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars), let us begin with this singular term "informed consent" and explain the dynamics of its implication.

First, the Spaceport has thus far been entirely funded by New Mexico's taxpayers. Over $200M USD has been poured into this project, first promoted by the former governor, Bill Richardson, and now backed by the current governor, Susana Martinez. Other than the initial costs, this is the good news.

The bad news is state legislators influenced by so-called "trial lawyers" will not back the plan based on an insurance matter under the informed consent designate. Meanwhile, there are currently nine similar spaceports planned for the United States, with five already setup for operations: Colorado, California, Texas, Florida and New Mexico. Other than Branson's aerospace enterprise, two others, RocketCrafters and SpaceX have passed over the New Mexico Spaceport operation, preferring other locales. (Respectfully, Titusville, Florida and Brownsville, Texas).

Continued below the fold...

The next question is obvious: Why would the State of New Mexico, recently declared as one of the lowest income-producing states in America, pass up an opportunity that could easily generate millions of dollars per annum? The reason is based on State Legislators to pass laws that would exempt spacecraft suppliers from liability for passengers, that is, should any spacecraft launch and be destroyed. Although this liability clause makes sense to some people, to others it makes no sense whatsoever, simply because informed consent is not a license for industries to do as they damn well please, and come whatever risk and liability happens, a responsibility to safety (for consumers) still exists.

Consider the ski industry, as an example, where one purchases a lift ticket, and the agreement between the skier and the ski resort is a non-libel clause, should the skier be injured (or worse) in an accident. Thus, skiers cannot suit the ski resort because of the accident.

The informed consent clause, as it applies to the Spaceport, does not mean or insinuate the aerospace charter company offering space flights, or carriers and supplies that feed its industry, are not exempt from damage and all related catastrophic events on the ground, not even exempt from gross negligence. Such costs contributed by any phase of the Spaceport's operation, essentially the contractor offering space flights, will, in fact, be covered. The stipulation is the fact informed consent implies lawsuits cannot be submitted in the event of a catastrophic incident on the ground or while in flight.

Interestingly, when the State of New Mexico passed legislation for the development of Spaceport America (hereafter, SA), which was intended as a partnership with Virgin Galactic, legislators passed a law to exempt Branson's enterprise through 2018, but not other instrumental facets for its industry (i.e., parts suppliers). Meanwhile, other space port operations (Texas, Florida, Colorado and Virginia) decided to grant a permanent liability exemption for all carriers and suppliers to their respective operations.

Thus, the reason other potential space port operators decided not to base their operations in the so-called Land of Enchantment, which some might think attaching negation to the noun is really more the case: Land of Disenchantment! Another way to say it is State Legislators influenced by trial lawyers on this matter are utterly obtuse. Millions of dollars of potential annual revenue are literally going up in smoke and flames because there likely will be no liftoff for the Spaceport until this legal matter is settled and New Mexico starts to think more competitively.

What about the 20-year lease Virgin Galactic had signed with the State of New Mexico to operate its alleged commercial space tourism enterprise? According to Jeri Clausing, the API Supervisor based out of Albuquerque, lease payments and user fees were expected to generate about a quarter billion dollars (and more). If Richard Branson decides to go the way of Space X, et al., there goes a lot of money to another state.

And not just the Spaceport loses on this likely outcome, but think of all the feeder industries already in place--hotels, restaurants, commercial tour operators, van, coach and taxi drivers--these people and many others also will lose valuable income. Lest it go unsaid, people in this state vitally need income.

There are also other advantages to aerospace operations based out of the Spaceport. For instance, education, technological and research based on myriad industries that make space travel and operations a truly 21st-Century endeavor that essentially has no limits given the scope of such endeavors.

As far as safety factors go, consider another advantage of space operations in this removed southern location of the state: a wide-open territory where human development (cities and towns) and industries do not crowd the turf of the regional landscape. Thus, should the worst scenario happen, chances of loss of human life and property damage is exceedingly rare.

The bottom line: There has been a substantially large investment in Spaceport America and a change in New Mexico's liability law is requisite if the Spaceport is deemed a viable and new asset to boosting economy, jobs, and myriad spinoff opportunities based on the broader scope and ideal of aerospace. If citizens do not take an active role in this matter, that is, to convince State Legislators the Spaceport is not only an incentive enterprise that will add an immense amount of revenue to the state's coffers, but also put us on a space exploration map for all time.

True, New Mexico is the birthplace for atomic energy, but unlike its questionable fame (by some people's estimates, questionable), aerospace in all its facets takes Neil Armstrong's "One giant step for mankind" to a whole level that can take all of us to a whole new level. By holding Virgin Galactic and other aerospace industries hostage to an outmoded informed consent standard we in this state will not be part of such an epic adventure.

Not only revenue and fame will be lost, but also pride in the fact the Spaceport was likely the first novel proposal of its kind for the United States. Moreover, some 1,000 New Mexicans who have already been employed in helping create this aerospace locale will not profit from any future potential monetary reward. Neither will anyone else. Spaceport America very well may be the biggest boondoggle this state has ever seen!


P.S.: Please consider joining the Save Our Spaceport Coalition. They are working hard for a New Mexico that dares to reach for the stars!

A version of this diary is cross-posted at NMSTARG.COM


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    IndieGuy, Simplify, corvaire, BlackSheep1

    Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

    by The NM STAR Group on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 07:57:15 AM PST

  •  Why an inland location for a spaceport? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Lived in NM in the mid-00s. Never could understand why anyone thought NM could compete with coastal launch sites.

    I would have assumed that the obvious safety advantages of coastal locations - more or less empty ocean for spent stages and aborted launches to impact in - were obvious and overwhelming.

  •  We don't need (4+ / 0-)

    another energy-wasting, atmosphere-polluting boondoggle to entertain the wealthy.  They have enough ways to do that already.

    “I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.” –Blaise Pascal

    by dskoe on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 10:10:18 AM PST

    •  I'm sorry that you feel this way. (0+ / 0-)

      Space exploration is more than just going into space. It also inspires the next generation of students. And look at all the advances in technology and science because of the space program.

      The wealthy are just a small part of the overall picture.

      Also, we chose our spaceplane carefully. Unlike the Space Shuttle's Solid Rocket booster (which burned aluminum!), ours burns Liquid Hydrogen and Liquid Oxygen only, so there is no pollution problem!

      Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

      by The NM STAR Group on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 10:15:55 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Space for pleasure. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Space exploration must stay in the circle of academics and true exploration.  Anyone going up there, at this stage of the game, had better make it a productive trip of setting up experiments and taking data.  Others would be there to run ops on instrumentation.
        Anyone else is just parasitic.  

        •  Space isn't and hasn't (0+ / 0-)

          been about "academics" (or at least purely academics) for a long time.  

          Space is first and foremost these days about commerce, followed by national security.

          Besides, tell me how you define "true exploration"  please.  

          •  True exploration is what Apollo did. (0+ / 0-)

            NASA should be the "frontier", then business can follow. Once LEO was established, business should have taken over. Once we could get to the Moon, the same thing should have happened.

            All of this was the idea behind the movie 2001. Dr. Floyd took a commercial trip to the Moon, not a government one.

            Space should have never been about security. It should have always been a place of science, exploration, and yes, tourism.

            Without academics, we have no progress, and no space program. NMSTARG is an example of academics.

            Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

            by The NM STAR Group on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 07:10:20 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Re: (0+ / 0-)

              Apollo had some scientific exploration, but by and large it was really about exploration of how far could we go with the current technology, and spending limits

              I'll grant NASA should be about frontier expansion, but it hasn't been unfortunately.  As for what space "should" be about - its about societal expansion.  

              I am not against academics, or space.  But I am desperately tired of the romanticism of NASA and space.  

              Its what causes bad policy.  Or at least, it allows bad policy to occur more frequently

              •  Yeah, NASA hasn't been like that... (0+ / 0-)

                ... in too long. Too bad.

                Societal expansions sounds good to me. That's why I like space.

                I guess I'm guilty of romanticizing NASA. It's what let's me dream of pushing the frontier and discovering new things. And it has indeed led to bad policy; I do have to concede the point.

                Here's hoping to change all of that!

                Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

                by The NM STAR Group on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 08:37:50 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

      •  Inspire the next generation to do what? (0+ / 0-)

        No planetary body will ever be habitable by humans due to radiation (except Earth, due to its protective atmosphere), or so says an expert friend of mine.  

        "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

        by Neuroptimalian on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 09:24:53 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  We go there because it is there. (0+ / 0-)

          It is human nature to explore.

          Just because we can't breathe the atmosphere, doesn't mean it wouldn't be an interesting place to visit.

          It was also dangerous to fly an airplane, due to gravity. We overcame the gravity issue. I'm sure that we can overcome the radiation issues too.

          Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

          by The NM STAR Group on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 10:17:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  This is about liability? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    If I were in NM, I wouldn't change the law for the benefit of one particular corporation. If Branson doesn't think he can make his planes as safe as those of the airlines, then he shouldn't be flying.

    Oh, and this isn't about space exploration. These vehicles are not "spaceships"; they are high-flying airplanes. They aren't going into orbit, let alone to any part of space deserving of exploration.

    •  These laws are not just for one corporation... (0+ / 0-)

      ... but also for all the smaller companies that are involved (just like the parts manufacturers for the auto industry).

      All they are asking for is a level playing field, that's all. In the article, we used the example of a ski resort:

      Consider the ski industry, as an example, where one purchases a lift ticket, and the agreement between the skier and the ski resort is a non-libel clause, should the skier be injured (or worse) in an accident. Thus, skiers cannot suit the ski resort because of the accident.
      So it really is inaccurate to portray this as a benefit for one particular industry. This is about fairness and equity. Other spaceports have the informed consent laws already on the books in their states; as a consequence, they are enjoying an influx of dollars.

      Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

      by The NM STAR Group on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 12:25:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  This is entirely about spaceflight (0+ / 0-)

      and they are spaceships.  You don't have to go into orbit to go into space.  That has been established multiple times.

      And not all airplanes are "as safe as airlines"  By their very nature (and I don't just mean military aircraft).  

  •  NM spent $200M on this? (0+ / 0-)

    If I were New Mexican I'd be in torch-and-pitchfork mode.

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 12:20:48 PM PST

    •  Why? Building a regular airport... (0+ / 0-)

      ... is also an expensive proposition (a reinforced concrete runway is 6 figures alone).

      Just because something is expensive, that doesn't necessarily mean that we shouldn't do it. It just means that we have to be extra vigilant at making sure that we do it right.

      Our argument is that the money spent so far is a grave concern, only if informed consent is not passed.

      We feel that if informed consent passes, then companies will use the facility, NM will generate revenue, and the $200M will be paid back with interest.

      If informed consent doesn't happen, then I will join you with the pitchforks, because then it will become a boondoggle!

      Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

      by The NM STAR Group on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 12:37:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The corporation is asking the State of New (0+ / 0-)

    Mexico to take the risk.  This one one of the poorest states in the Union and the corporations want the working class of the state to take the risk if a plane load of multi-billionares crashes and burns.
    The entire budget for the state is on the order of 2 billion.
    Such an event would be impossible for the State to make whole.  Shark Attorneys would descend upon our humble heads and start wealth-stripping.
    All we have, at this time, is do nothing Gary King (D,) to stand between our resources and the looters.
    The notion of sending rich people into space for pleasure is an obscene waste of resources when all our efforts should be devoted to adaptation to Climate Change.
    NM needs to eat the spaceport and stop wasting resources on it.  It is Branson's baby and he can make it prosper without asking a sparse state to shoulder unreasonable risk.  Branson can purchase private insurance and still make the spaceport succeed.

    •  It is inaccurate to portray the law... (0+ / 0-)

      ... in this way. If there is negligence on the part of the company, then all bets are off. That is the nature of informed consent. If a skier accidentally breaks their leg, they cannot sue the ski resort. If the skier breaks their leg because of negligence, then that's a different thing.

      Again, the Spaceport is only asking for what other spaceports enjoy. They are asking for equal treatment, not special treatment.

      As far as rich people getting thrill rides: yes, they are. What goes unseen is all the other people making a living in our poor state because the big players are in town taking that thrill ride (hotels, restaurants, high-tech businesses, etc., etc.). Isn't that how the game is played?

      And as far as providing a choice between fixing climate change or exploring space: I have never seen why we can't do both!

      Large investments are always painful to make, until they pay off. We're betting this one will.

      Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

      by The NM STAR Group on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 05:56:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  By that claim (0+ / 0-)
      The notion of sending rich people into space for pleasure is an obscene waste of resources when all our efforts should be devoted to adaptation to Climate Change.
      Should we also defund the Department of Education as well?  Cause that wont' do anything to address climate change.  Probably worth while to also defund things like OSHA.  Maybe the Department of Labor as well.  

      I mean, none of this address climate change

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