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“Nobody has sat down and actually looked at the nitty gritty of what does immunizing legislation that works look like,” she said.

There are also many questions, Gabrynowicz said, about whether federal law pre-empts state law in this area, whether state law would still apply if the accident happened over another state or country and whether it would cover passengers from countries that don’t allow such exemptions.

Federal law exempts spacecraft operators from liability, requiring them to warn passengers in writing of associated risks.

Gabrynowicz said that states are now trying to create an even more advantageous position for operators “so they can promote the industry.”

In New Mexico, the strong trial lawyer lobby has been successful in persuading the Democrat-controlled legislature against expanding the exemption.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez says he is hopeful an agreement can be reached this year, but he emphasizes “you always have to be careful about precluding someone from being able to file an action.”

Despite the uncertainty, aerospace consultant Patti Grace Smith, a former FAA official responsible for regulating the U.S. commercial space transportation industry, says that since other states have extended the liability exemption to suppliers, New Mexico must do the same to remain competitive.

“The whole sector is an evolving sector,” she said, noting the legal frameworks are needed “enable the industry to go forward in a positive way.”


Follow Jeri Clausing on Twitter at!/jericlausing