Personal Spaceflight Bill Signed by Colo. Governor

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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 19 that will limit the liability of federally licensed commercial space companies launching from a proposed suborbital spaceport the state wants to construct at the Front Range Airport east of Denver.

The law, officially known as Limited Liabilities for Spaceflight Activities, largely exempts commercial space companies from being held liable for the injury or death of passengers who pay for rides to space aboard commercially operated craft. In some cases, when it is found that a commercial operator has been grossly negligent, for example, commercial launchers could still be held liable for passenger injuries or deaths.

Hickenlooper said the measure, which passed the Colorado legislature unanimously, was an example of “the entire state’s solid commitment of supporting future commercial space operations.”

At press time, the proposed Spaceport Colorado was still awaiting official spaceport designation from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), according to a press release from the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.

“They [Colorado] have completed their pre-application consultation with FAA and have put out a request for consultation services so that they can finalize their formal application,” Greg Rasnake, a spokesman for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, said. The FAA office is the lead federal regulatory agency for commercial spaceflight.

During the bill signing, Hickenlooper said he petitioned the federal government for spaceport status in December. The spaceport would support only horizontally launched vehicles and eventually be designed to accommodate point-to-point suborbital transportation, he said.

Currently, no company has announced definitive plans to offer commercial point-to-point suborbital travel, or to build a spacecraft that could support that endeavor.

Sites in other states, including Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia, have secured commercial spaceport licenses from the federal government. Spaceport America in New Mexico is currently the only site that will support suborbital passenger flights anytime soon. Virgin Galactic, the suborbital tourism company that charges $200,000 a ticket for brief rides to the edge of space, plans to begin commercial operations there in 2013.