New Mexico Spaceport Plans First Rocket Launch

New Mexico'sGovernor, Bill Richardson, is announcing today the inaugural rocket launch in aseries of space liftoffs planned for that state's Southwest Regional Spaceport.

Richardson is set to recognizethe spaceport activity at New Mexico's State Capitol Building in Santa Fe.

Whencompleted, the New Mexico spaceport--situated near Upham (roughly 45 miles northof Las Cruces and 30 miles east of Truth or Consequences)--will cover some 27square miles.

The"ribbon cutting" flight in March of next year will carry seven experimental andcommercial payloads for a variety of scholastic and business entities. 

Historic moment

"It'sa historic moment for New Mexico in that we've talked about the spaceport for15 years," said Rick Homans, Spaceport Authority Chairman and New MexicoEconomic Development Department Secretary. "This means that in the next fewmonths we'll be actually turning some dirt."

Stillunderway is the requisite work to complete an environmental impact statement(EIS) - needed to obtain a spaceport license from the Federal AviationAdministration's (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). Thatwork has started, Homans said, and data collected during next year's rocketlaunch will be used as part of the FAA license application.

Homanstold that the first rocket launch from the spaceport is nowslated for March 27, 2006. "Our feeling is that as soon as there are rocketsactually launching from the spaceport, more companies will be knocking at ourdoor."

Lofty expectations

Therocket to climb from the spaceport will be a SpaceLoft XL, developed by UPAerospace, said Eric Knight, the group's chief executive officer.

Knightsaid in a press statement that UP Aerospace of Unionville, Connecticut has thecapability to launch up to 30 space launches per year from New Mexico'sSpaceport. The company believes that its SpaceLoft rocket offers the "world'slowest cost-per-pound of any space-transportation vehicle."

JerryLarson, President of UP Aerospace said that the SpaceLoft rocket with thecompany's S.T.A.R. (Space Technology & Academic Research) initiative offerscolleges and universities with even the smallest budgets the ability to conduct"real science on a real space-flying rocket."

Theupgraded SpaceLoft is some 20 feet (6 meters) tall. Fueled by solid propellant,the rocket will be targeted to reach 350,000 feet (106,680 meters). "The planis to have it recovered about 25 miles down range in the spaceport area,"Larson told A vehicle common to the SpaceLoft--the GoFast--wasflown last year by Larson and his colleagues from Black Rock, Nevada.

Fly routinely and often

Larsonis excited about flying UP Aerospace rocketry to christen the New Mexicospaceport.

"Finallythere's a place in the United States that is opening its arms toentrepreneurial and small groups like launch rockets that can reachspace," Larson said. Use of public land in Nevada takes a lot of coordination, hesaid, making it very difficult to launch.

"With New Mexico organizing should make this much more routine. And that'svery important," Larson said. "We want to fly routinely and often. I thinkwe'll see some miraculous things happen now at the spaceport in the years tocome," he added.

Business plan

UPAerospace officials noted that their business plan focuses on three markets:Businesses that require economical testing of space-flight hardware; scientificanalysis of the Earth and in-space phenomena; and research conducted by theeducational sector. 

According to the UP Aerospace web site,SpaceLoft vehicles are built to military specification and utilize highlyreliable propulsion systems. Launch services are green-lighted by U.S. government licensing from the FAA and approved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The UP Aerospace group can carry out launchoperations with a certified and experienced launch crew and is able to conduct on-landpayload recovery. "From contract to launch in as little as six months," statesthe UP Aerospace web site.


Force field

Homanssaid the UP Aerospace flight next year acts as a forcing agent.

"Itforces us to work out the other details involved with the spaceport in terms ofthe state land office, which actually owns the land," Homans said. In addition,the ranchers that own property abutting the spaceport are also an active partof spaceport discussions, he said.

Liftoffsite for the SpaceLoft XL has been determined, Homans said. Facilities to prep,then launch and monitor the rocket are to be installed there. This will be aminimal first phase to handle the first activity at the spaceport, he said.

"It'sa lot better to have some activity than no activity," Homans said. "So thisputs us into a whole new category of viability."

Turn dirt and launch rockets

Homanssaid that opening the spaceport for business is a big step for New Mexico.

"There'sa lot of expectation. And there has also been a tremendous amount ofskepticism. When you spend 15 years talking about something and producingreport after report, but never actually turn dirt and launch rockets, thenpeople naturally get skeptical," Homans noted.

HavingUP Aerospace fly out of the spaceport came from a strategic planning process,stemming from Governor Richardson's backing of the annual X Prize Cupactivities at the spaceport.

Momentumis picking up for the upcoming Countdown to the X Prize Cup, slated for October6-9 in New Mexico.

Eventsscheduled include a public symposium on the future of spaceflight at New MexicoState University in Las Cruces on October 6th; educational and publicactivities at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo on October7-8; and on October 9, the Personal Spaceflight Expo at the Las CrucesInternational Airport.

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Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He has received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.