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Posts Tagged ‘commercial space operators’

Space law professor available to discuss Bigelow decision

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Matthew Schaefer, director of the Space, Telecommunications and Cyber Law program at the University of Nebraska, says the FAA’s recent decision in favor of Bigelow Aerospace is an “important first step”  toward encouraging private investment in new space endeavors, such as asteroid mining, private space research facilities, space hotels and the like.

“To be sure, it is certainly not the final step required, not quite a watershed moment . . . but it is a sign of considerable momentum to establish a more certain investment environment for companies interested in new space activities,” he said, saying the decision could create a snowball effect.

After consulting with the State Department, the Defense Department, NASA, NOAA and other authorities, the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, inidicted that the FAA will leverage its launch licensing authority to protect commercial space ventures by ensuring zones of non-interference with commercial operations.

Professor Schaefer is able to discuss the significance and impact of the decision, the possible reaction by other countries with space programs and the potential response of the other U.S. companies  launching commercial space businesses.  He also is able to discuss the advantages of a “light” regulatory scheme for space business versus a more restrictive approach.

If you would like to interview Professor Schaefer, he is available at  402-472-1238 or

If you are on a tight deadline, please contact Leslie Reed at or 402-677-0853 for assistance in contacting Professor Schaefer.

Nebraska space law professor talks about legal fallout from rocket explosion

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Matthew Schaefer is director of the Space, Cyber and Telecommunications Law Program at the University of Nebraska College of Law.

He discusses the legal and political implications of Tuesday’s explosion of an unmanned commercial rocket headed for the International Space Station. The Antares rocket was suppled by contractor Orbital Sciences, which blew up six seconds after liftoff from NASA’s space launch facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

To interview Professor Schaefer, dial 402-472-1238 or email

Some of Schaefer’s observations:

“This incident emphasizes that rockets are tricky. We do have accidents, it’s not 100 percent fool-proof.  You’re dealing with technology that has 20 times more fuel versus the weight of the rocket itself. When something goes wrong, there’s likely to be an explosion. That’s why you have those fire-clouds.”

“Accidents do occur, albeit very infrequently. You have to have a liability and insurance regime in place to prepare for them, and the United States does.”

In the case of commercial cargo space flights, the regime includes cross-waivers of liability so that participants – NASA, its contractors and their subcontractors and even schools that provide materials and equipment for a space-station experiment – cannot sue one another. In addition, Congress requires insurance coverage up to a maximum possible loss (MPL) for damages and injuries for innocent bystanders.  The MPL amount is based on a massive catastrophic accident so rare that it would be exceeded only once in every ten million launches.  Though the dollar figure differs by launch, it averages about $82 million. The federal government has promised to indemnify commercial space operators in case of an incident with third-party damages exceeding the maximum possible loss amount.

“We’ve never had an MPL-exceeding event and have never even come close. We launch these rockets from areas close to the ocean, from launch pads that have significant buffer zones.  It’s highly, highly unlikely to have any third-party damage and if you did, it’s even more unlikely to have an MPL-exceeding event.”

Some expect Congress next year  to reconsider existing insurance requirements and indemnification provisions.  Schaefer maintains that Congress should not increase the maximum possible loss requirement. Rather, it should consider capping third-party liability at the MPL so that the U.S. commercial space industry is put on equal footing with competitors in several other nations, including France, Russia and China.

“The incident also demonstrates the importance of creating redundancy by encouraging the existence of multiple space operators. With Orbital Sciences out of commission while the incident is investigated, a second carrier, SpaceX, can handle cargo flights to the space station. We don’t want to lose a space operator in the exceedingly rare chance of massive, third-party damages and that is one reason in favor of third-party liability caps.”