Commercial Spaceport in New Mexico Gets FAA Launch License
Spaceport America is to blossom in New Mexico, a commercial venture to support suborbital and orbital access to space of passengers, satellites, and cargo. It is to be home base for Virgin Galactic's suborbital spaceline operations.
Credit: URS/Foster + Partners

New Mexico?s Spaceport America has reached a key milestone on its road to become the future home for Virgin Galactic?s suborbital space tourism spaceliner fleet and other launch firms.

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) announced Monday that it received a license for vertical and horizontal launches from the Federal Aviation Administration?s Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST).

The FAA/AST issued the license after providing a vital Environmental Impact Study Record of Decision required for construction to begin on the sprawling spaceport.

New Mexico?s Spaceport America is billed as the nation?s first ?purpose-built? commercial spaceport. The site is 30 miles (48 km) east of Truth or Consequences and 45 miles (72.4 km) north of Las Cruces.

Political hoops

There have been a number of political hoops to move Spaceport America closer to reality.

For example, the New Mexico State Legislature set certain requirements for spaceport funding, which included the formation of a local tax district, the issuance of an FAA Environmental Impact Statement record of decision and launch site license, and a signed lease agreement with an anchor tenant.

Roadwork to the spaceport is already underway, and the architectural firm of URS/Foster + Partners is completing their final design for Spaceport America?s terminal and hangar facility.

Spaceport America is expected to cost a total of some $225 million to construct.

According to NMSA Executive Director Steven Landeene, all is now on track to start spaceport construction in the first quarter of 2009. Furthermore, the NMSA is expected to have a signed lease agreement with Virgin Galactic later this month.

?A few issues remain that are being worked. We anticipate lease signing prior to the end of the year,? he told

Virgin Galactic is offering seats at the going rate of $200,000 per person onboard the now-in-development WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo suborbital launch system. Those vehicles are taking shape at Scaled Composites in Mojave, Calif.

Along with Virgin Galactic, Spaceport America has been working with a host of aerospace firms such as Lockheed Martin, Rocket Racing Inc., Armadillo Aerospace, UP Aerospace, Microgravity Enterprises and Payload Specialties.

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority currently projects vertical launch activity to increase in 2009 and construction to also begin in 2009 with the terminal and hangar facility for horizontal launches completed by late 2010.

Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than four decades. He is past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines and has written for since 1999.