The advent of space tourism and the rise of space tourism companies has brought the first litigation by a dissatisfied space tourist.
The case was mounted in a US court by Harald McPike, a wealthy Austrian businessman based in the Bahamas who paid a US$7 million deposit in March 2013 for one of two seats on a trip around the moon on a Russian spacecraft.
The full cost was US$150 million each.
That never happened and wasn’t looking like it was going to happen before 2030.
So, McPike sued space tourism company Space Adventures. He claimed they made false claims of having reserved and owned the rights to provide a round the moon flight through agreements with the Russian space agency Roscosmos and RSC Energia, the company that builds Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
He alleged breach of contract, fraud, unjust enrichment, conversion and violations of the US state of Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
That would have made the case not that different to any other commercial dispute involving breach of contract and non-delivery of promised services were it not for the novelty of space.
The case was settled earlier this month on undisclosed terms, with McPike’s case formally dismissed by a judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Media reports suggest that without the settlement, it wasn’t about to finish without going before a jury.
Space Adventures had been promoting round the moon flights for a number of years and McPike made contact in in 2012. In March 2013, he booked his seat aboard a Soyuz mission around the moon, paying the US$7 million deposit, with the expectation that the flight would occur within six years.
He was due to make a second down payment of US$8 million but withheld his cheque out of concern at the limited progress on planning for the mission.
With the agreed instalment not forthcoming, Space Adventures ended the agreement in March 2015 but kept the deposit.
McPike called in his lawyers. Among his claims was that contrary to his agreement with Space Adventures, there was no formal relationship between the company and Roscosmos for a round the moon mission.
The case was scheduled to go to trial and likely would have done so, had both sides not heeded the judge’s plea for them to settle. The judge observed the small fortune in legal costs already invested by both sides.
The case certainly highlights the pioneering nature of much to do with Earth law and its numerous jurisdictions and space.
Space Adventures was founded in 1998 in the US and so far has sent seven tourists into space, one twice, all aboard Russian missions.
It’s so far the only commercial company to have sent paying customers into space, though others are planning such missions.
Space Adventures’ problem appears to be that Russian launches haven’t had the spare seats for paying passengers because of increased commitments to support the International Space Station.
None have occurred since 2009. The last space tourist – the industry prefers the term ‘personal spaceflight’ – was Canadian businessman Guy Laliberte.
However, Space Adventures is still advertising future moon flights for those who have done everything there is to do on Earth and happen to have a spare US$150 million.
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