The recent crash of the Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered spaceship has drawn attention once again to the dangers of space travel. The reality of buying a ticket to space seems to be just around the corner. However, Virgin Galactic’s recent tragedy has put a spotlight on the legal implications of such a seemingly dangerous new industry.
On October 31, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed over the desert of Mojave, California, during a test flight, killing one of the two pilots aboard. The spacecraft’s unique “feathering” system, a method of positioning the rudders to maximize drag during descent, deployed too early during the flight. The spacecraft disintegrated seconds later, leaving the two pilots helpless during a 10-mile drop to Earth.
What Laws Protect Commercial Space Passengers?
Virgin Galactic’s fatal crash spooked many potential space travelers and raises several key questions about the legal ramifications of space travel, including: Are there even laws in space?
According to James E. Dunstan of Mobius Legal Group, PLLC, the 2004 Commercial Space Flight Amendments to U.S. domestic law require that passengers of commercial space flights give written consent for their participation only after being fully briefed on the dangers of space flight. For accidents that occur while in space, international law dictates that the negligence test be applied to the party responsible for the accident to determine if they breached their duty to the injured party.
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