Time for a little space business by a citizen scientist-- an ordinary scienc-y person who just happens to be building a personal satellite in his basement. I'm at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum today, where scientists and policy makers try to tackle space weather awareness from a real world 'money&lives' stance. On Friday I'll write it up in my main column, but for now I'm going to connect these issues with some 'Project Calliope' concerns.
When launching a personal satellite, who will be at fault if there is trouble with the satellite?
This is not a new issue, but it is a more pointed issue for small-stakes players like us. If the government or military launches a satellite, they can bicker internally about who is in charge, but overall it's going to be a government matter. For government-contractor interactions, there are Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) drafted to cover potential issues. Between two large corporations, lawyers can slug it out.
This is what I call a 'frontier question'. It's only a contentious point when individuals, not government or 'East India Company'-type large corporations, start moving into a new area.
The crux of the issue is who is the end user of the satellite-- the builder as the owner of the satellite on-orbit, or InterOrbital Systems as the launcher ('entity carrying (shipping) the the satellite out of the US to IOS' Tongan-based, US-owned launch services division')?
Last year I reported how it ends up cheaper to not insure most satellites against loss, and just accept some losses will occur. This is because satellite insurance is really expensive. Put another way, it's cheaper to buy X satellites and let one fail, than to buy and insure X+1 satellites.
But insuring against potential damages from a situation beyond your control, that involves your satellite? If the risk is low but the cost to insure against that risk is high, then a company can essential either gamble its existence on success, or pay for expensive insurance to cover them. Either option can render 'low budget space flight' out of the game before it begins.
The risk of a picosatellite like ours suffering a failure that impacts someone else? Extremely low. But this is American, and someone has to assume the risk, and the liability if the extremely remote happens. Is the hobbiest, the citizen scientist, protected by something akin to a Good Samaritan clause?
At least we're willing to guarantee our satellite won't create zombies.
Every Tuesday here at The Satellite Diaries , Fridays at the Daytime Astronomer
Space Citizen Science: Who Assumes The Risk?