MOJAVE — Once again, the Mojave Air and Space Port is at the forefront of commercial space industry policy, this time in being the first spaceport to engage in an agreement with a space launch company in which the parties release one another from holding the other responsible in case of damages due to a space launch incident.
The agreement with Virgin Galactic was unanimously approved by the airport governing board on Tuesday.
It is required by the Federal Aviation Administration in order for Virgin Galactic to legally use the spaceport for its space launch operations with SpaceShipTwo.
“If we don’t sign it, Virgin can’t operate here,” Mojave Air and Space Port General Manager Karina Drees said.
The same waiver of claims and assumption of responsibility will be required for any other commercial space launch entity, such as Stratolaunch, she said.
The agreement is based on the fact that the FAA sees the spaceport as a contractor to the space launch company, in this case Virgin Galactic, and similar agreements are required for all the company’s contractors, she said.
Essentially, it states that neither the launch operator nor the spaceport may sue the other for damages incurred during a space launch operation. The spaceport, however, can encourage the operator to carry a specific amount of insurance to cover damages.
The spaceport itself has recently added insurance to cover infrastructure damage in case of a mishap, whether space-related or otherwise.
“The bottom line is, if we don’t sign it, the FAA will not allow them to fly from here,” Drees said.
Although he did not voice issues with the substance of the agreement, Director David Evans questioned why it was not automatically brought before the entire Board, instead of asking Board Chairman Andrew Parker sign it. Parker requested the entire Board decide on whether or not to approve it.
“This is one of those agreements that is not clear-cut in the Board policies,” Counsel Scott Nave said, in that it does not fit any of the usual categories for what should come before the entire Board.
However, the Board will likely see more of these agreements for other space launch operators that wish to use the facility.
“This is a first for the country. We’re the first ones to sign this as a spaceport,” Drees said.
The Mojave Air and Space Port became the first FAA-licensed inland spaceport in June 2004, prior to the spaceflights of Virgin Galactic’s predecessor, SpaceShipOne. Since that time, the facility and its staff have frequently been at the forefront of developing policy and procedures for the commercial spaceflight industry.