by Douglas Messier
With the New Mexico Legislature back in session in Sante Fe, the Dona Ana County Legislative Coalition is seeking more than $20 million for improvements to Spaceport America.
The group is seeking $19.5 million for the first phase of a long-term capital improvement program. Phase 1 includes a spaceway taxiway ($10 million), launch vehicle payload integration facility ($6 million), fuel farm installation ($3 million), and vertical launch area improvements ($500,000).
“This long-term facility expansion is in accordance with a master plan to facilitate additional development within 3-5 years at an overall estimated cost of $45.5 million,” the coalition said in a document outlining its 2018 legislative priorities.
The coalition is also seeking to increase the spaceport’s budget for operations and critical infrastructure to $1 million.
“The space industry is seeing exponential growth across all sectors (Civil, Commercial, and National Security Space),” the document states. “Other states are making significant investments to fund this important economic engine and are quickly outpacing New Mexico. Benefits to the state include increased jobs, research efforts, and attraction of new test efforts.”
The final item in the coalition’s list of spaceport priorities is the Commercial Space Protection Act, which would ” increase New Mexico’s competitive edge by attracting space companies who will be assured that their proprietary information will be protected without the danger of premature disclosure. This protection exists at other spaceports and is critical to level the playing field amongst spaceports.”
Whether legislators will be in the mood to provide the spaceport with additional funding remains to be seen. The spaceport has already cost New Mexico taxpayers about $225 million, and revenues are still not completely covering expenses. Some legislators have expressed deep frustration with the project.
The state built the facility for anchor Virgin Galactic, which is years behind schedule in beginning commercial suborbital space tourism flights from the spaceport. Richard Branson’s company might begin flights from the facility later this year depending upon how well testing of SpaceShipTwo goes at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
Members of the coalition include the City of Las Cruces, Doña Ana County, Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance, Las Cruces Public School District, and The Bridge of Southern New Mexico.