Officials from New Mexico, the federal government and Virgin Galactic met last week behind closed doors for the state’s first Space Valley Summit to form a “collaboratory” to promote Spaceport America and the state’s aerospace economy.
The one group not invited: taxpayers who have forked over about $250 million to build the spaceport where Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant. As the Las Cruces Sun News dryly noted
Minutes after [Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham] exhorted the summit to “make sure every New Mexican … knows exactly what is happening here,” all reporters were asked to leave.
NMPolitics.net and its publisher, Heath Haussamen, have settled a lawsuit against the secretive New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) that runs Spaceport America. The authority agreed to release a group of fully unredacted leases of tenants at the spaceport and to pay the website $60,000.
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.
The New Mexico Legislature was generous to Spaceport America this year, providing nearly $17 million to pay for operating expenses and a series of upgrades designed to allow the struggling facility to attract more tenants.
The funding includes $10 million for a new satellite testing and development hangar, $5 million for a fuel farm, $500,000 for a launch vehicle payload integration facility, and $500,000 to repair and upgrade “electrical, fire suppression, water, sewer, security, mission control, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and building systems.”
The appropriation for the new hangar is contingent on the New Mexico Spaceport Authority contracting with a tenant that specializes in advanced aerospace products and technologies.
The spaceport also received $975,900 from the state’s general fund to fund its operations.
Spaceport America has struggled due to more than a decades of delays that have plagued anchor tenant Virgin Galactic. Richard Branson’s suborbital space tourism company is continuing to test SpaceShipTwo Unity at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The company has not set a date for the start of commercial operations in New Mexico.
A bill designed to shield information about Spaceport America from public scrutiny was approved unanimously by the New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday. The vote paves the way for the full Senate to consider the measure.
The bill had been previously approved by the Senate Public Affairs Committee without recommendation. It must pass the Senate and the House before the legislative session ends on Thursday.
A budget approved by the New Mexico House of Representatives would boost the state’s annual contribution to Spaceport America’s operating budget for fiscal year 2019.
Funding from the state’s general fund would increase from $375,900 to $675,900. Spaceport America officials say they need to boost their efforts to attract more businesses to the facility outside of Truth or Consequences.
The budget also includes $10 million “for the planning and construction of an aerospace satellite testing and development hangar,” the bill reads. “The appropriation is contingent on the New Mexico spaceport authority contracting with a vendor specializing in advanced aerospace products and technologies to use the hangar.”
Construction of the spaceport near Truth or Consequences has already cost taxpayers about $225 million. The spaceport was originally built for anchor tenant Virgin Galactic, which has yet to begin flying suborbital space tourism flights from the southern New Mexico facility.
Virgin Galactic is currently testing its second SpaceShipTwo, Unity, at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Richard Branson’s space company expects to conduct several powered flight tests at Mojave before moving test operations to Spaceport America later this year.
Doña Ana County commissioners have selected a contractor to pave a dirt road to provide easier access to Spaceport America from Las Cruces and other points to the south of the facility.
County staff said the top bidder in a recent procurement process was Mountain States Construction — and county commissioners selected the company in a 4-1 vote.
The move allows Interim County Manager Chuck McMahon to negotiate a contract to build the 23.5-mile road, which could cost up to $15.2 million….
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority only has about $13 million to $13.6 million to build the road on hand because of some expenditures already tied to the road project, said Dan Hicks, NMSA executive director.
But McMahon said there’s a chance the New Mexico Department of Transportation will pitch in additional revenue to reach the $15.2 million mark. That would allow for the construction of a better road, county administrators said.
But even if the extra money doesn’t come through, the road project still would entail “hot mix” asphalt pavement, a “geotextile” fabric used to add structural stability to the road, two arroyo crossings and fencing, according to county documents. It would have a smaller “base course” — or roadway foundation — than if the extra funding is granted.
County officials declined to put any additional money into the road project to reach the $15.2 million mark, saying they would prefer to have the state provide it.
County Commissioner John Vasquez voted against funding the road upgrade, saying that he had difficulty asking taxpayers to spend more on Spaceport America. County residents voted to increase a tax on themselves to help pay for the $225 million project.
Getting to Spaceport America from Las Cruces currently requires driving north of the facility to Truth or Consequences and then turning around and traveling south. The paved road will significantly reduce travel time.
NASA has released a document listing the 1,206 active Space Act Agreements (SAAs) the agency has with commercial companies, non-profit organizations and state and local governments.
From that list, I’ve extracted agreements with individual companies. Below you will find tables listing SAAs that NASA has signed with Virgin Group companies, Moon Express and NanoRacks. There is also a fourth table that has SAAs with a number of companies and organizations that we follow on Parabolic Arc.
SAAs come in three varieties: reimburseable, non-reimburseable and funded. Under reimburseable agreements, a company or organization will pay NASA for its services. No money exchanges hands under non-reimburseable agrements. And under funded agreements, NASA pays the company to perform work or provide services. (The space agency made substantial use of SAA’s in the Commercial Crew Program.)
A project to improve a 24-mile dirt road to Spaceport America is moving forward, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports.
Doña Ana County commissioners in mid-December OK’d an agreement with several government entities involved in the southern-road project that spells out its parameters and how historical and cultural sites will be protected during construction. (more…)
Visitors to Spaceport America will soon be able to imbibe under a law signed by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.
With commercial spaceflights still a long way off, the cash-strapped New Mexico Spaceport Authority requested a liquor license to expand the number and types of non-aerospace events it can host there.
Meanwhile, two measures aimed at encouraging space development in Washington State have fizzled in the Legislature as elected officials grappled with more urgent priorities. Neither one is expected to make it out of committee during the present legislative session.
One bill would create a space exploration center. The other would have provided tax incentives to spacecraft manufacturers similar to the ones enjoyed by aircraft producer Boeing.
The latter bill is considered crucial to Blue Origin, which has a production facility located in Kent, Wash. The company is in the process of deciding whether to manufacture its new BE-4 engine in Washington or at a facility under development in Florida.
The following is the New Mexico legislative fiscal impact report for SB-157, a measure introduced by State Sen. Lee Cotter (R-Las Cruces) to restrict use taxes collected in Sierra and Dona Ana counties to paying off Spaceport America bonds. Revenues in excess of what is needed to pay off the bonds are being used to fund spaceport operations.
The analysis indicates that excess revenues could be used to pay off the two bonds one year earlier than their 2029 maturation date. However, the restriction would put a gap in the spaceport’s operating budget that would have to be paid by state taxpayers. Spaceport officials are already seeking $2.26 million from the state government for the upcoming 2017 fiscal year to fund operations.
The revenue gaps at the $225 million spaceport have been caused by delays by anchor tenant Virgin Galactic, which plans to fly tourists to space from the facility. New Mexico officials are hoping flights begin in Fiscal Year 2018, which will begin on July 1, 2017. Virgin Galactic has not given an estimate for when service will begin.
New Mexico State Sen. Lee Cotter (R-Las Cruces) has renewed efforts to bring tax relief to residents of Dona Ana and Sierra counties relating to their support of Spaceport America.
In 2007, residents of the two counties agreed to increase their taxes to help fund the construction of the facility, which is located outside of Truth or Consequences. The taxes remain in place to pay off bonds sold to fund Spaceport America’s construction.
Have you been wondering exactly what Spaceport America costs to operate? Curious about what officials spend money on? Anxious to know what this is going to cost you in the fiscal year ahead? Dying to learn how much anchor tenant Virgin Galactic is contributing to the budget?
Well, look no further. Parabolic Arc has the spaceport’s budget request for FY 2017, which begins on July 1. There’s a full description of spending and projected revenues right after the break.