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Spacecraft Tourism Personal Injury Liability
In 2004, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, founded Virgin Galactic, a spaceflight company, which among other things, aims at providing commercial spaceflights to space tourists. These tourist space flights were originally being sold for $200,000 a seat but have now reached $250,000 per seat. Virgin Galactic hoped to have at least one spaceflight by the end of 2009, but to date has been unsuccessful. In November 2014, a test flight, the Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, crashed near California’s Mojave Air and Space Port leaving one pilot severely injured and another dead.
The 2014 Galactic SpaceShipTwo crash highlights the liability and risks associated with commercial space travel. As tourist space exploration expands, the industry will be coming under closer regulatory analysis. Currently in New Mexico, Virgin Galactic has immunity from personal injury lawsuits except in cases of intentional harm or gross negligence. Virgin Galactic is exempt from being sued by passengers who have given informed consent prior to utilizing the service. The company is hoping to extend this immunity to its part suppliers and other spacecraft builders. So far, New Mexico has refused to expand the personal injury liability exemption to suppliers. Other states, such as Texas and Florida, have shown a willingness to expand personal injury immunity for those in the space business, and thus more companies are looking to Texas to break into the commercial space industry.
Currently, Florida, Virginia, New Mexico, and California are the only states operating spaceports. Many groups, such as the Texas Space Alliance, believe that Texas needs its own spaceport in order to compete on a world stage. SpaceX, rival to Virgin Galactic, has broken ground on a spaceport facility in Brownsville, Texas. SpaceX has already planned to launch twelve rockets in the future, from a sight near Brownsville. Rather than space tourism, SpaceX plans to focus its resources on commercial satellite launches.
With talks about Texas becoming the next state with a spaceport, it is important to recognize the legal issues of liability and personal injury associated with such industry. To speak to an attorney about these issues, contact the attorney’s at Fomby & Zarghouni toll free at (844) FOZALAW.
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