Sometime in 2020, if all goes according to plan, British billionaire Richard Branson will board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity at Spaceport America in New Mexico and take the first commercial suborbital space flight in history.
The landmark flight, which Virgin has been trying to conduct for 15 years, will also be the culmination of a 30-year effort by New Mexico to become a commercial space power.
LAS CRUCES, NM, Feb. 27, 2018 (Las Cruces Space Festival PR) — It’s time to have fun and enjoy the accomplishments and importance of space in Las Cruces and the surrounding community. To celebrate all things space, volunteers have come together to create New Mexico’s first ever Space Festival. It will take place over three days and nights, April 12th to 14th, across three locations. The theme is “Making Space for Everyone.”
The festival kicks off on April 12th – the day of “Celebration.” On this day, events will be geared toward children and families in celebration of the anniversary of human space flight. Yuri’s Night, which has been celebrated worldwide since 2001, marks the date when the then USSR launched Yuri Gagarin into a single orbit around the Earth in 1961. Events will take place on the New Mexico State University campus, including an evening event organized for youth by NMSU’s Women in STEM (WiSTEM) group, a mobile planetarium in which people can experience and learn about the night sky, and a Tech Center featuring a flight simulation specifically tailored to space travel. There will also be educational NMSU Space Talks and stargazing. Las Cruces Public Schools are also planning events earlier in the week.
Las Cruces is throwing itself a space party this year, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports.
Organizers say the first edition of the Las Cruces Space Festival, to be held April 12 and 14, will be a small affair and they hope it will grow over the years. The idea is to showcase the region’s aerospace industry, show people what has been accomplished in southern New Mexico and encourage new generations of Las Crucens to enter the growing aerospace field.
The date, April 12, was selected to coincide with the anniversary of human space flight, when the USSR launched Yuri Gagarin into a single orbit around the earth in 1961.
“The intent of the festival is to celebrate what we already do in space, not worry about what’s coming,” said Pat Hynes, director of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium at New Mexico State University.
Hynes said plans are still developing, but events will allow the public to learn about space-related activity in the region. On Saturday, April 14, various activities will be set up around the Plaza de Las Cruces which may include informational booths, a possible space-related movie at the Rio Grande Theatre and other activities.
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) has approved borrowing $6.5 million to build a Spaceport America visitors center in Truth or Consequences. Meanwhile, Dona Ana County officials are preparing to bid out a contract to pave a southern road that leads to the remote spaceport.
However, the projects won’t measure up to the original plans for them due to funding limitations. The budget squeeze is a result of years of delay in the start of commercial operations by Spaceport America’s anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic.
Over a BuzzFeed, writer Joshua Wheeler travels to the hardscrabble town of Truth or Consequences, N.M., whose residents are waiting for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to begin space tourism flights from nearby Spaceport America, possibly by the end of this year.
Wheeler asks whether the town is ready for the influx of high net worth individuals, and whether they will bring the benefits to Truth or Consequences and the rest of Southern New Mexico that were promised when state officials sold the $218 million taxpayer-funded project to residents.
The answer to the first question is a definite “No.” Truth or Consequences remains as dilapidated as ever, with few plans and little money to spruce itself up for Virgin Galactic’s millionaire clientele. This likely means it will lose out to the larger, more developed city of Las Cruces in terms of benefits.
As for the second question, Wheeler says that remains to be seen. He sees great irony that one of the poorest states in the country has spent nearly a quarter building dollars to finance the dream of a British billionaire who will be catering to fellow members of the 1 percent.
Plans to pave a road that would provide more direct access to Spaceport America from Las Cruces have hit a snag over design and budget issues.
Engineers in Doña Ana County did a design for the project, which involves paving 23.7 miles of dirt road between the village of Hatch and the spaceport. However, officials in Sierra County — where 16.7 miles of the paving would be done — don’t like the plan because they believe the road would be too expensive to maintain once paved.
The construction of Spaceport America has helped propel Las Cruces, NM to ninth on the Milken Institute/Greenstreet Real Estate Partners’ list of Best Small Cities in America, according to the spaceport’s recent newsletter.
The Milken Institute recognized Las Cruces as a best performing city and acknowledged NMSU, WSMR and Spaceport America as key contributors to its ranking.
NMSU is New Mexico State University; WSMR is the White Sands Missile Range. The spaceport is being built in the desert near the city. It will serve as a home for Virgin Galactic, which will fly tourists on suborbital flights.
According to the Milken Institute’s website, the rankings are based on a number of factors:
The 2009 Milken Institute/Greenstreet Real Estate Partners Best-Performing Cities Index ranks U.S. metropolitan areas by how well they are creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth.Â The components include job, wage and salary and technology growth.
Las Cruces, NM – The Rocket Racing LeagueÂ® (RRL), in collaboration with the City of Las Cruces, the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Office and the New Mexico Economic Development Department, recently broke ground on the first phase of the RRL Aerospace Business Park, construction of two of the first hangars to be built at the east end of Las Cruces International Airport.
The hangers, scheduled for completion by May, are included in the 20-year lease agreement between the RRL and the City of Las Cruces for six 100,000 square-foot parcels at the airport. These and future hangars will house the aircraft and teams competing in the League in addition to RRL aircraft related operations.