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.
“This business will mark a milestone in world history, and it will launch a new space industry — a private space industry, driven by innovators and entrepreneurs and new technologies and bold thinkers.” — Richard Branson
“What we are calling the second space age will open up a wide range of commercial opportunities, including point-to-point cargo delivery, with personal and business travel.” — Gov. Bill Richardson
Ten years ago today, Virgin Galactic and New Mexico announced a deal for development what became known as Spaceport America. New Mexico would built a $225-million spaceport with taxpayer’s dollars in the desert near Truth or Consequences. Sir Richard Branson’s new space company would sign a 20-year lease to fly tourists aboard SpaceShipTwo from the facility beginning in 2008. New Mexico also expected the spaceport to be used by UP Aerospace, Starchaser Industries, and Peter Diamandis’ Rocket Racing League and X Prize Cup.
SANTE FE, NM, Dec. 14, 2005 (New Mexico Economic Development Department PR) — Governor Bill Richardson and Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Companies, today announced that Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space tourism business, will locate its world headquarters and Mission Control in New Mexico. The agreement between the State of New Mexico and Virgin Galactic calls for New Mexico to build a $225 million spaceport in the southern part of the state, on 27- square miles of state land.
Former New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Rick Homans has found a new job in Florida. The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation has hired him as its chief executive officer and president, starting on Jan. 17. Homans and the corporation are negotiating a 3-year contract.
Homans had two stint running the NMSA, which oversees the construction and operations of the state’s $209 million Spaceport America facility. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez elected not to keep Homans in that post when she took over from Democratic predecessor Bill Richardson.
In an interview with the Las Cruces Sun-News, Gov. Susana Martinez said she dismissed New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Rick Homans despite a plea from Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson:
Martinez acknowledged that Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson called her to request that former spaceport Executive Director Rick Homans be retained, but said she needed to make a change, in part because her team has not been able to conduct a thorough review of spaceport operations. She removed both Homans and the spaceport board, and has yet to name replacements.
Gov. Susana Martinez sacked the entire New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board of Directors on Friday. Two days later, the Albuquerque Journal published an investigative report exposing construction delays, poor planning, and weak managerial oversight on the $209-million desert spaceport outside of Truth or Consequences.
I found some additional details on a construction delay that occurred late last year at Spaceport America. The Albuquerque Journal reported on Nov. 30:
One of two major structures under construction at the New Mexico Spaceport has been boarded up as officials re-evaluate its interior design. The $2.9 million aircraft rescue and firefighting building was about 70 percent complete when workers were told to pack up, demobilize and return as late as April of next year.
To: Board of Directors, New Mexico Spaceport Authority From: Rick Homans, Executive Director Date: January 5, 2011 Re: Resignation
First, let me start by thanking each of you on the Board for your commitment to the NMSA and the Spaceport Authority. I have valued the many years that we have worked together. I particularly want to thank Ben Woods, who has served as Chairman for the last six months. We have all benefited from his steady hand and his reasoned approach to complex issues.
In a blunt letter of resignation to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board of Directors, outgoing Executive Director Rick Homas said that the $210 million effort to bring commercial space to the state requires a “complete commitment” from new Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to succeed:
“As of January 1, the Martinez Administration owns Spaceport America and all of its potential. The change that is taking place today is all part of taking ownership, and preparing for the challenges and heavy-lifting that lies ahead.
“Now that we have the spaceport nearly built, the harder work begins — we have to attract the customers, the operators, the manufacturers, suppliers and the R & D. We have to turn Spaceport America, and the surrounding communities, into a major visitor destination. We have to BE the leader of this new commercial spaceflight industry. All this is possible, but only if the Governor leads the way. She has to believe in the project and its massive potential to create jobs and impact education. She has to become its biggest champion and rally her Administration to support this effort. There is no middle ground â€“ nothing short of complete commitment from Governor Martinez and her Administration will allow this project to achieve its full potential, which is the promise we made to the citizens of New Mexico, and particularly the citizens of Dona Ana and Sierra counties who taxed themselves to make Spaceport America happen.