Local Lawyer Crafts First-of-its-kind Contract for Private Space Travel
Sherman & Howard’s Skip Smith discusses some of the legal work involved in getting first private astronauts into orbit

by Hank Lacey

Axiom Space announced Jan. 26 that it has chosen the first crew of private astronauts ever to travel to space. The Houston-based company will launch the explorers to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle sometime in 2022. The astronauts selected to fly the Axiom Mission 1 include Americans Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut and the mission commander; and Larry Connor, an entrepreneur and pilot; Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy; and Israeli investor and philanthropist Eytan Stibbe, a former fighter pilot. 

Milton “Skip” Smith, a partner at Sherman & Howard spoke with Law Week Colorado reporter Hank Lacey about his representation of Stibbe and the pioneering work he did to craft the contracts necessary to facilitate the mission.  

Smith is a former U.S. Air Force JAG officer and holds LL.M and D.C.L. degrees in space law. While in the military, Smith was director of space law at U.S. Air Force Space Command and chief of air and space law for the entire Air Force. Smith, a former chairman of the Colorado Space Business Roundtable and member of the board of directors of the International Institute of Space Law, has served as an adjunct professor of space law at the University of Colorado Law School, University of Denver Sturm College of Law and George Washington University Law School. 

The interview is edited for clarity and space limitations. 

LAW WEEK: There isn’t an exact template for a contract like this. What are some of the considerations that you needed to consider when you were thinking about what the contract might look like? 

SMITH: There’s international law that’s applicable to activities in outer space. The Outer Space Treaty, the Liability Convention, [and] some others, they form the backdrop of this. There are provisions that say nations have to authorize and supervise the space activities of their entities. So, we have to have government approval for this, and that also brings in U.S. law.  

The U.S. has the most broad, in-depth body of national space law in the world. There’s a lot in there on, for example, cross waivers of liability. If you’re launching something into space, or if you’re having a vehicle return to the earth, cross waivers that are governed by the Commercial Space Launch Act as well as Federal Aviation Administration regulations apply to the launch and reentry phases.  

This complete article appears in the Feb. 8 issue of Law Week Colorado. To read other articles from that issue, order a copy online. Subscribers can request a digital PDF of the issue.