At some point in the next six months, the Mojave Air and Space Port could experience something that not happened here in 13 long years: an actual spaceflight.
Richard Branson is predicting that Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity could reach space on a flight test from Mojave by December. For once, his prediction does not appear to be based on unrealistic hopes, the need to reassure customers about delays, or a complete misunderstanding of what is happening on the ground here.
In other words, it’s actually plausible. Whether it will happen on that schedule…that’s another question. Flight test is notoriously unpredictable and very tough on timetables.
NewsChannel 9 in El Paso recently looked into officials’ claims that Spaceport America had a $20 million economic impact on New Mexico’s economy in fiscal year 2016 and found a lack of support data.
However, when asked for a copy of the economic impact study or documents supporting the claim, Spaceport America’s chief financial officer, Zach De Gregorio, told NewsChannel 9 he didn’t use any documents and sent NewsChannel 9 a PowerPoint presentation with five slides.
“It’s just the PowerPoint,” said De Gregorio.
When asked how he did an economic impact study without any documents, De Gregorio said, “I had a lot of conversations and I talked with local business owners, customers and with city officials. I talked with my teammates and I got a really good sense of what was the activity in FY16.”
….When asked about exaggerating their economic impact, [Spaceport America Executive Director Dan] Hicks said, “The chart was intended to show the economic value of the activities at Spaceport America compared the funding received from the NM General Fund. It was simply a comparison chart to convey value added. An Economic Impact Study was not needed to provide a qualitative assessment of our value per NM general fund spending. The focus of the discussion was for our CFO to explain the assumptions he used to compile the information in that impact chart.”
The PowerPoint presentation showed a $20 million return based on the $944,000 the state invested in the spaceport in FY 2016. NewsChannel 9 said the figures do not show millions in taxes paid during the same fiscal year by residents of Dona Ana and Sierra counties to pay off bonds used for spaceport construction.
NewsChannel 9 also reported problems in obtaining documentation from Spaceport America. The spaceport attempted to charge the channel for documents that should be free to inspect under New Mexico law.
The New Mexico Finance Authority agreed to let the spaceport for one year use extra money from the taxes that shoppers pay in two Southern New Mexico counties. But the spaceport wanted the excess tax money in perpetuity, a proposal that the finance authority declined to grant as its chairman raised questions about the facility’s financial strength.
Though some politicians have supported the spaceport’s proposal, others have argued the tax money was only intended to help build the facility, not cover its day-to-day expenses.
I’ve been working for months on an investigative project into the status of Spaceport America. The question of whether the spaceport is providing an economic benefit to the state is front-and-center, but I’m also exploring transparency and other issues. I’ve visited the spaceport, interviewed Virgin Galactic employees, dug deep into documents and researched what’s happening in other states that have spaceports. I’ve obtained information the public has never seen and am excited to publish this series. Look for it sometime in July.
After a decade of broken promises and delays, the next year could bring some very good news for New Mexico’s $225 million taxpayer-funded Spaceport America.
Anchor tenant Virgin Galactic’s lease payments are increasing. And Richard Branson’s prediction for the start of commercial spaceflights there in 2018 appear (for once) to be on the mark, barring major problems with SpaceShipTwo’s flight test program.
So, it would seem that at long last, New Mexico’s hard-pressed taxpayers will finally be off the hook for supporting the spaceport. Right?…I mean, right?
ARCA Space Corporation has announced plans to flight test its Executor aerospike engine for its Haas 2CA single-stage-to-orbit small satellite launch vehicle at Spaceport America in New Mexico in August.
The Demonstrator 3 vehicle will conduct the first test of an aerospike engine in flight during a suborbital mission that will reach an altitude of up to 100 km, the company said in a press release.
Now that the second SpaceShipTwo Unity has five glide flights under its belt, the “we’ll fly when we’re ready, we don’t make predictions” era appears to be officially over at Virgin Galactic.
“I certainly would be very disappointed if I don’t go up next year. And I would hope it’s earlier than later in the year,” Richard Branson told British GQ. “The programme says that we should be [testing] in space by December, as long as we don’t have any setbacks between now and then.”
California’s Franchise Tax Board is seeking public comment on a proposed new tax that would fall upon ULA, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and other companies launching spacecraft from within the state.
The levy would apply to companies “that generates more than 50 percent of its gross receipts from the provision of space transportation activity for compensation in a taxable year,” the proposal states. Space is defined as 62 statute miles (100 km) or more above Earth. (more…)
UPDATE: Just got a call from Spaceport America. Here’s what they say is going on:
Follow the Sun Tours was running tours of the spaceport from the visitors center in Truth or Consequences. Tourists signed up online or arrived in person. The company also brings in tour groups on coaches from Albuquerque and El Paso.
Follow the Sun Tours will continue to bus in tourists from Albuquerque. The spaceport authority has lined up a new tour company to handle the tours from the visitors center in Truth or Consequences. An announcement will be made soon about the new tour company and an upgraded visitor experience.
For a while, people could at least get a tour of the futuristic facility until now. Follow the Sun Tours Inc. notified the City of Truth or Consequences in December it could no longer provide tours for Spaceport America.
4 Investigates asked Spaceport America when tours will relaunch. A representative over the phone told said they will try to relaunch tours in May once a new tour company is secured. Then KOB-TV was told Spaceport America only wanted to do “positive” stories with the station.
Meanwhile, seniors in Truth or Consequences are furious they had to give up their recreation space at the Lee Belle Johnson Center for the now non-existent tours….
The senior recreation center has been relocated to the city’s civic center.
A measure to hide certain details of Spaceport America’s business dealings from public scrutiny is making its way through the New Mexico Senate.
The Senate Public Affairs Committee obliged Friday, backing a bill to exclude many spaceport business dealings from the state’s public records law. Its members voted 5-2 to allow the spaceport to withhold information about clients in the space business.
Sens. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, dissented. Senate Bill 429 heads next to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The spaceport’s executives say confidentiality is key to attracting business in the fiercely competitive industry of space flights for the wealthy and other ventures in aeronautics.
But Steinborn, Stefanics and transparency advocates say the bill would block from public view parts of a project that critics have lambasted as a boondoggle.
“The taxpayers of this state have already given hundreds of millions of dollars to the spaceport project,” Greg Williams, president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, told the Public Affairs Committee. “Our citizens certainly have a great interest in how it is operated going forward.”
SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM, March 10, 2017 (Boeing PR) – Boeing test teams reached a significant milestone for the CST-100 Starliner program by testing the parachute system Starliner will use on its return to Earth.
SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM, February 14, 2017 (NMSA PR) – Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport located in southern New Mexico in the USA, and FieldTripZoom, a live and interactive educational content platform for K-12 classrooms, today announced their partnership to make a range of Spaceport America STEM and other educational content available to every K-12 classroom across the State of New Mexico – free of charge.
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…)