Spaceports as Contractors

Spaceports are contractors. Not all spaceports are always contractors in all respects, but a lot of them are a lot of the time. If a spaceport is a contractor it has to enter into agreements with the launch operators launching from its site that neither the spaceport nor the launch operator will bring claims for damages against each other for harm arising out of licensed or permitted activity.

Under the Commercial Space Launch Act, 51 U.S.C. ch. 509, and its implementing financial responsibility regulations,14 C.F.R. part 440, a launch licensee or permittee must enter into reciprocal waivers of claims with each of its contractors involved in launch or reentry services. Chapter 509 defines launch and reentry services as activities involved in the preparation of a launch or reentry vehicle, payload, crew (including crew training), government astronaut, or space flight participant for launch or reentry; and the conduct of a launch or reentry.

Spaceports—which Chapter 509 terms launch and reentry sites, but I’ll use the vernacular here—satisfy the definition of a contractor under 14 C.F.R. § 440.3.  That section defines contractors to mean those entities that are involved at any level, directly or indirectly, in licensed or permitted activities, and include suppliers of property and services. Spaceports provide property and services, including launch pads, runways and launch services. Some spaceport business models allow for providing support services for payload integration, fueling, hot fire testing, and range safety. The FAA’s regulations in part 420 require spaceports that are launch site operators to coordinate their customers’ hazardous activities. A number of these coordination activities, including the scheduling of operations and notifications, may constitute launch services.

The financial responsibility requirements apply both to commercial and state spaceports. Under Chapter 509, the only spaceports that the FAA does not license are those operated by the federal government. Accordingly, both commercial and state spaceports need to be aware of their obligations under Chapter 509 and the FAA’s financial responsibility regulations.