New Mexico Spaceport Gets State Go-ahead
Conceptual artwork depicts cross-section of proposed New Mexico spaceport. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has struck a 20-year lease on the futuristic spaceport to handle the firm’s suborbital spaceliner operations. Artwork: Courtesy Virgin Galactic
Credit: Virgin Galactic

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico - New Mexico lawmakers agreed today to proceed on a three-year commitment of funds to build a regional spaceport, designed to support commercial rocket launchings, including passenger-carrying suborbital vehicles.

"Our view of this is all systems go for the spaceport," said New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans, also Chairman of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority in nearby Santa Fe.

"This sends out a message loud and clear that New Mexico is setting out on this bold plan," Homans told reporters in a telephone briefing. "This is real and we're moving forward on this."

Legislative go-ahead

The New Mexico legislature offered broad, bipartisan support for the spaceport, Homans said, despite early skepticism in some political quarters regarding the project.

Specific actions taken by the legislature included authorizing a $100 million in capital outlay over fiscal years 2007, 2008, and 2009 towards the spaceport. "That is a financial commitment from the state. There's no need to go back for any other approvals in terms of getting money authorized every year," Homans added.

There are several conditions put upon the expenditure of the money, such as successfully obtaining a spaceport license from the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) commercial space transportation office.

Also, state lawmakers want official cost estimates that certify the spaceport can be built at or below a projected $225 million price tag, Homans said.

Request for proposals

Homans said that as a single voice the New Mexico Spaceport Authority will now proceed immediately in issuing next month a request for proposals to scope out the architecture and engineering needs to build the spaceport.

By mid-2006, a selected architecture and engineering firm will be fully engaged, with spaceport specifications and cost estimates to be complete by year's end, Homans said.

Then, by the first quarter of 2007, construction bids are to be issued, pending the spaceport license approval by the FAA, Homans explained.

The spaceport site is approximately 27 square miles of open, generally level, range land that can be found 45 miles north of Las Cruces and 30 miles east of Truth or Consequences [map]. This site was picked for its low population density, uncongested airspace, and high elevation.

Homans also noted that a March 27 suborbital rocket launch by UP Aerospace from the spaceport property is being delayed until mid-May. The New Mexico Spaceport Authority and the rocket group, he said, have agreed to hold off on that flight in order to assure that high-quality data can be obtained from the launch - information to be utilized in the FAA spaceport license application.

Home base

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has strongly backed the New Mexico spaceport effort, including the landing of the annual X Prize Cup in the state.

Last December, Richardson and Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Companies announced a partnership to build the world's first commercial spaceport. Virgin Galactic will locate its world headquarters and mission control for its personal spaceflight business at the spaceport.

One of the first "good news" calls Homans plans to make is contacting Virgin Galactic, based in London, England. That communication, he added, will inform them that "New Mexico is moving forward with the spaceport and with a future home base for them."

Last month, Richardson announced that Rocket Racing League, an aerospace entertainment organization that is developing the nascent market for low-altitude rocket-powered aircraft racing, will bring its world headquarters to New Mexico. That activity is to be inaugurated later this year at the X Prize Cup festivities in Las Cruces, New Mexico.