New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has signed new pieces of legislation--bills that push forward work on New Mexico's spaceport. In addition, the state has set in motion a potential investment deal to attract a space entrepreneurial firm to work in the area.

As a result of a legislative session last month, New Mexico is now able to invest $110 million in building what's labeled as the world's first "purpose built" spaceport to be located in Upham, New Mexico.

The spaceport site is approximately 27 square miles of open, generally level, range land in southern New Mexico that has been picked for its low population density, uncongested airspace, and high elevation.

New Mexico lawmakers agreed last month to spend $100 million dollars over the next three years to build the spaceport. The other $10 million dollars in previous funding is available to help move forward on the request for proposal process for the design and construction of the spaceport.

New bills

Governor Richardson signed on March 1 two bills that further the spaceport's development:

-- House Bill 89: Creates one entity, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, to oversee the spaceport.

-- House Bill 473: Allows local communities--those that will significantly be impacted by the creation of the spaceport--to ask their voters if they want to support the spaceport and related development through a new local options gross receipt tax.

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

Investing in space firms

Last week, Richardson signed House Bill 835 that allows the State Investment Office to invest in New Mexico aerospace companies that receive more than $100 million in funding from federal agencies like NASA.

The New Mexico State Investment Council preliminarily approved on February 28 a potential investment deal with one space entrepreneurial company that is competing for a share of $500 million in contracts from NASA to provide commercial crew and cargo launch services.

Charles Wollmann, Public Information Officer for the Council told SPACE.com that the group has okayed an investment of up to $20 million in Transformational Space Corporation LLC (t/Space) of Reston, Virginia, "contingent on the awarding of a contract by NASA, and negotiation of final terms and conditions." The space firm would also need to move to New Mexico, he said.

Recent legislation signed by Governor Richardson enables the State Investment Council to invest in aerospace companies like t/Space, Wollmann added, should they receive a government contract of $100 million or greater. 

"Our investment is limited to 10% of the total contract, i.e. if it is $150 million contract, New Mexico can invest up to $15 million," Wollmann explained.

"t/Space is delighted to have the State of New Mexico as a partner," said Brett Alexander, t/Space Vice President for Government Relations. "New Mexico has been very supportive of our efforts," he told SPACE.com, with the group enthusiastic about locating its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) development work there.

Oklahoma spaceport action

In a related spaceport development, progress is also being made on operating a commercial launch facility at the Clinton-Sherman Industrial Airpark located in Burns Flat, Oklahoma.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST) has prepared a 253-page draft Environmental Assessment for the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority's proposal to launch reusable launch vehicles horizontally on suborbital trajectories.

The launch facility may be used to launch piloted vehicles or vehicles carrying other payloads. Also under consideration is rocket engine testing at the site.

A spaceport in the area is of particular interest to Oklahoma-based Rocketplane, hard at work on building its suborbital XP vehicle intended to haul paying passengers to the edge of space in 2007.

The FAA has invited all those interested to take part in a public hearing on using the site to support space launchings. The hearing will be held at 7:30 PM, Thursday, March 9, 2006 at the South Western Oklahoma Development Authority, Western Technology Center located in Burns Flat, Oklahoma.