Spaceflight litigation: The liability atmosphere awaiting new rocketeers

As companies start sending “space tourists” into orbit, the legal system must evolve to keep pace

For an introduction to the field of space law, click here.

Despite the fact that the hazardous endeavor of human spaceflight has been around for 51 years—ever since the Soviets launched Yuri Gagarin into orbit aboard Vostok I—there has not been much need to ponder the liability regime surrounding injury- or death-producing accidents in space. This is because so far, apart from rare exceptions such as Dennis Tito and Anousheh Ansari, who ventured to the International Space Station as “space tourists” aboard Russian rockets, astronauts have ventured into space as employees of NASA or foreign government agencies. This has meant that the entity responsible for operating the failed mission cannot face litigation because that entity is the astronaut’s government employer, and the entities that have furnished hardware for the mission are immune from suit under the so-called government contractor’s defense.

Contributing Author

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Doug Griffith

Doug Griffith is a Los Angeles attorney whose practice caters exclusively to clients in the aviation and commercial human spaceflight industries. Formerly with the aviation practice...

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