New Mexico Pours $17 Million More into Spaceport America

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

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.

 

Spaceport America Privacy Bill Advances in New Mexico Senate

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

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.

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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.

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Legislative Update: Booze at Spaceport America, Fizz in Washington State

WhiteKnightTwo visited Spaceport America for the first time in three years on Wednesday. Below, you can see a full-scale model of SpaceShipTwo on the ramp. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
WhiteKnightTwo visited Spaceport America for the first time in three years on Wednesday. Below, you can see a full-scale model of SpaceShipTwo on the ramp. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

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.

SpaceShipTwo Nearly Crashed in 2011

SpaceShipTwo, ready for its closeup. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
SpaceShipTwo, ready for its closeup. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Ship Entered Inverted Flat Spin
Officials Downplayed Incident at Time
Near Disaster Cancelled Glide Flight at Spaceport America

The SpaceShipTwo vehicle that crashed one year ago nearly met its end three years earlier during a hair-raising flight test that officials at builder Scaled Composites and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic downplayed at the time, according to documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

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Virgin Galactic’s Plans Advance in New Mexico

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)
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)

As engineers in Mojave prepared SpaceShipTwo for a glide flight this week, things were coming together at the suborbital vehicle’s future home in New Mexico.

On Tuesday, Gov. Susana Martinez visited Spaceport America to sign legislation that strengthens legal protections for Virgin Galactic, the company that will build and operate SpaceShipTwo vehicles from the $209 million desert facility near Truth or Consequences.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic and the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) appear to have resolved outstanding issues relating to the completion of construction work at the Spaceport.

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Martinez Signs Strengthened Spaceflight Informed Consent Legislation

Spaceport_AmericaSPACEPORT AMERICA (Susana Martinez PR) Following unanimous passage by the state’s legislature, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez signed legislation today expanding existing liability protections for spaceflight operators to spaceflight manufacturers and suppliers. The New Mexico Expanded Space Flight Informed Consent Act prevents lawsuit abuse and addresses the inherent risks of space flight and is written to ensure New Mexico’s Spaceport America remains at the forefront of a nationally-competitive and rapidly-growing commercial space industry.

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Space Legislation Advances in Texas, New Mexico

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Texas State Rep. Rene Oliveira has introduced legislation that would allow for the closing of public beaches to accommodate space flight activities. The bill is designed to support operations at the launch facility that SpaceX is considering building near Brownsville.

The legislation requires special approval of the General Land Office for any launch dates on:

  • the Saturday or Sunday preceding Memorial Day;
  • Memorial Day
  • July 4
  • Labor Day
  • a Saturday after Memorial Day but before Labor
    Day; or
  • a Sunday after Memorial Day but before Labor Day.

Over in New Mexico a revision of the state’s spaceflight informed consent law passed a key hurdle when the Senate Public Affairs Committee approved the House version of the legislation.

Both houses passed identical bills by unanimous margins, but each half must approve both bills before the measure is sent to Gov. Susana Martinez for signature.

The Senate action occurred a day after Gov. Martinez and Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides urged legislators to finish work on the measure. The legislative session ends on March 16.

Whitesides Predicts Commercial Spaceflights in 2014

RocketMotorTwo firing in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
RocketMotorTwo firing in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

At a luncheon with business leaders on Tuesday, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides urged state legislators to complete work on an informed consent law designed to protect the space company from lawsuits.

Whitesides also laid out a schedule for powered flights of SpaceShipTwo that has the vehicle flying into space by the end of the year. The appearance coincided with the release of a picture showing the latest test firing of the rocket’s hybrid motor in Mojave, Calif.

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Whitesides Pleads Informed Consent Case to New Mexico Businessmen

george whitesidesVirgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides was in Albuquerque yesterday, telling local business leaders that New Mexico has fallen behind other states in restricting the rights of passengers and their heirs to sue companies like his own in the event of injuries or deaths during spaceflights.

“The state of New Mexico and its taxpayers have made a huge investment in commercial space and in order to protect that investment, it needs to remain in relative parity with other states,” Whitesides said.

“The fact is that the current situation will keep companies from locating in New Mexico and at the spaceport. The bills would change that and would really open the door to new business,” he said.

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New Mexico Governor to Renew Push for Expanded Informed Consent Law

WhiteKnightTwo beside the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space in New Mexico. (Credit: David Wilson, Spaceport America)

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez will make a renewed push to have an informed consent law extended to spacecraft manufacturers and supplier in order to make Spaceport America more competitive. An effort earlier this year failed due to the oppositi0n of trail lawyers.

The renewed push, set for next year’s legislative session, comes as news broke that the Mojave Air and Space Port in California is hiring former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is being hired as a consultant to get similar legislation pushed in the Golden State. The Albuquerque Journal reports:

Scott Darnell, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, said, “Richardson is certainly free to consult or help with the spaceport activities of another state, but in New Mexico, this just highlights how important it is for us to ensure that we continue to lead in this industry by passing legislation in the upcoming session that prevents lawsuit abuse.”

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Jack Schmitt Withdraws Name for New Mexico Energy Post

Governor Susana Martinez issued the following statement following Senator Harrison Schmitt’s decision to withdraw his nomination to serve as the State’s Secretary of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources:

“Senator Schmitt is a former NASA astronaut who underwent a complete background check by the Department of Public Safety as part of his nomination process.

“Senator Schmitt was willing to allow a private investigator access to his personal information, but he was not willing to waive that investigator’s liability for any improper actions or use of that information. While one can understand Senator Schmitt’s concerns, complying with the Legislature’s request is necessary to restore public confidence in state government. That’s why I am requiring all of my cabinet secretary designees to comply with that request and this has led to Senator Schmitt withdrawing his nomination.

“I wish Senator Schmitt the best in his future endeavors and I will work swiftly to find a qualified replacement to lead New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.”

Gov. Martinez Appoints New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board

GOVERNOR’S PRESS RELEASE

SANTA FE – Governor Susana Martinez announced today that she has made appointments to all positions on the Spaceport Authority Board of Directors. The appointments come as the Martinez administration continues to review all boards and commissions to make necessary adjustments and ensure that New Mexico’s taxpayers receive the best possible return on their investment. Each member has agreed not to conduct business with the Spaceport for two years after leaving their position on the board.

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Homans Disputes Gov. Martinez’s Claims He Was Uncooperative

Former New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Rick Homans has fired back at Gov. Susana Martinez’s claim that he was uncooperative with her transition team:

In your Sunday story, Governor Martinez declares that the Board of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority and me, its Executive Director, withheld information from her and the transition team.

This allegation is wholly untruthful.
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Branson Urged Governor Martinez to Keep Rick Homans as NMSA Chief

Sir Richard Branson and former New Mexico Gov. 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.

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