New Effort to Exempt Spaceport America Records From Public Scrutiny

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space terminal hangar facility (center), Spaceport Operations Center (Left) and “Spaceway”
(Runway) at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

New Mexico legislators are making another attempt to shield the records of the taxpayer-funded Spaceport America from public scrutiny.

A new bill co-sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen (D-Las Cruces) and Sen. William F. Burt (R-Alamogordo) would limit public access to spaceport and customer records across a broad range of categories.

The documents covered by the measure include:

  • New Mexico Spaceport Authority records: “all documents, papers, letters, books, maps, tapes, photographs, recordings and other materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that are used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of the authority;”
  • customer information: “all records relating to a customer, the disclosure of which would reveal trade secrets or adversely affect proprietary interests of the authority or a customer;”
  • cyberinfrastructure information: “all records relating to the authority’s computing systems, data storage systems, advanced instruments, data repositories and visualization environments, including the authority’s network diagrams, cyber-vulnerability assessments and spaceport facility technology;” and,
  • security information: “all records relating to the physical security of the authority or a spaceport, including security logs, visitor logs, security manuals, security reports, security personnel data, security video footage and diagrams of security systems.”

The measure protects customer information unless that person or organization says otherwise.

“Customer information shall be maintained as confidential and is exempt from inspection pursuant to the provisions of the Inspection of Public Records Act unless the customer informs the authority that all or part of the records relating to the customer are not considered by the customer to contain sensitive, proprietary or confidential information,” the bill states.

Papen has argued that limiting public access to the records is key to keeping Spaceport America competitive with other spaceports around the country.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that not everyone is in favor of the bill.

Peter St. Cyr, the executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, called the proposed legislation overly broad.

He also said the Spaceport’s practice of blacking out certain lease payments in response to public records requests has already generated concern.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that taxpayers are stakeholders and have a right to know what’s going on in a facility they paid to build,” St. Cyr told the Journal.

Gov. Susana Martinez supports the measure. However, her chief of staff told the Journal the governor supports making all contract information public once the agreements are finalized.

A similar bill introduced last year did not make it out of committee.