Taxpayers may be on the hook the next time a space mission by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Orbital ATK Inc. or another private company fails.
NASA would partially indemnify private launch service providers from liability for injury, death or property damage for operations under contract with the federal government under legislation scheduled for a House vote today.
The measure, S. 442, would cap losses at $500 million for injury, death or damage to private property and at $100 million for damages to government property occurring under contract. If passed, the measure goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.
SpaceX and Orbital have had setbacks on missions to supply the International Space Station. An October 2014 explosion just after liftoff destroyed an Orbital Antares rocket laden with space station cargo. In 2015, a SpaceX Falcon 9 blew up minutes into a flight to the orbiting lab. Another SpaceX rocket exploded on a Florida launchpad in September.
SpaceX, Orbital and Sierra Nevada Corp. won contracts in January to haul cargo to the ISS under a NASA initiative to privatize routine spaceflight.
The bill reaffirms congressional commitments to the Orion Crew Capsule and the Space Launch System to get U.S. crews to the space station. Lockheed Martin Corp. is the prime contractor for the capsule and Boeing Co. is the prime for the SLS.