Last week, Governor Bill Richardson signed into law a bill passed by the New Mexico legislature that limits the legal liability of companies offering suborbital spaceflight. The law requires participants to sign pre-flight waivers in which they take personal responsibility for the risks inherent in such flights. The waivers would not shield any company charged with negligence or otherwise operating in an unsafe manner. The law also does not cover flights that launch from one site and land at another.
Clearly, then, the law is aimed at protecting New Mexico's investment in Spaceport America and its lead customer, Virgin Galactic. VG plans to start commercial operations, offering suborbital flights that launch from and land at Spaceport America, likely starting next year. One obstacle to the development of a space tourism industry has been the difficulty companies have had in obtaining insurance. New Mexico has taken a step towards allowing potential insurers a bit more legal protection, which could lead to easier insurance for the industry.