TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill shielding private spaceflight companies from certain liabilities on Thursday.
DeSantis signed off on the bill just one day after announcing his 2024 presidential bid with SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
The bill, titled Spaceflight Entity Liability (SB-1318), was one of the 27 signed into law on May 25. It shields companies like SpaceX or Blue Origin (founded by former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos) from lawsuits if passengers and crew members are harmed or killed.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Tom Wright, whose district covers parts of Volusia and Brevard counties. The area, known as Florida’s Space Coast, is home to major aerospace infrastructure, which is centered around NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Space Force Base.
Both SpaceX and Blue Origin have leased launchpads at the facilities. Blue Origin also operates a campus nearby.
The Spaceflight Entity Liability bill requires anyone who climbs aboard a private spacecraft to sign a waiver that states the following:
“WARNING: Under Florida law, there is no liability for an injury to or death of a participant in a spaceflight activity provided by a spaceflight entity if such injury or death results from the spaceflight activity. Injuries caused by spaceflight activities may include, among others, injury to land, equipment, persons, and animals, as well as the potential for you to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to your injury or death. You are assuming the risk of participating in this spaceflight activity.”Florida SB-1318
The spaceflight entity is not protected by the bill if they commit “an act or omission that constitutes gross negligence or willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant or crew.”
An amendment to the bill removed language stating a company should be held responsible if it “reasonably should have known” about a condition that threatens life or safety. It now states that a company must have had “actual knowledge” of “an extraordinarily a dangerous condition” to be held liable.
The bill breezed through both chambers of the Florida legislature, which drew some concern from space advocates who believe there should have been more discussion before it reached the governor’s desk.
“I think there should be some debate about, you know, what’s good about this was not good about this. Is this really in the public interest?” Dr. Ken Kremer, a research scientist and space journalist, told NBC affiliate WESH. “We want spaceflight here. Absolutely. It brings a lot of jobs. But it’s got to be done safe, just like in the airline industry. If you have crashes in the airline, it gets all kinds of lawsuits, so that’s why it does need to be regulated.”
Kremer also speculated that there could be political motivations behind the bill.
“They’re not looking to protect you, OK, Bezos and Musk. They want to protect themselves,” Kremer told WESH. “If you’re going to go and put your life on the line on a rocket, you have to know that’s a controlled explosion, so you have to really think that through very carefully, whether you’re willing to accept that risk that you might not come home.”
Florida’s spaceflight industry is expected to have a $5.3 billion economic impact over the next five years, according to a release from the aerospace economic development agency, Space Florida.
Read the full text of the Spaceflight Entity Liability bill here.