A Brief History of Spaceport America

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

UPDATED: 8/20/19, 12:08 p.m. PDT

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.


Weekend Reading: Spaceport America, SpaceX, LightSail 2 & More

Richard Branson and his children hang out with Project Bandaloop dancers during the dedication of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space facility in October 2011. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Dream a Little Dream of Me: SpaceX’s launch of Bangladesh’s “dream” satellite, Bangabandhu 1, has them celebrating in Dhaka. https://www.thedailystar.net/science/space-science/bangladesh-bd-first-commercial-satellite-bangabandhu-1-on-way-orbit-after-successful-launch-space-spacex-florida-us-1575244

Musk’s Big Promises for F9 B2: Crazy Elon’s prices are so low they’re insane! https://www.investors.com/news/spacex-elon-musk-predictions-reusable-falcon9-lower-costs/

A Shot of Maple Syrup, Coming Right Up: Nick Rose samples the cuisine for David Saint-Jacques’ upcoming mission to the International Space Station. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/nekwyz/canada-astronaut-food-david-saint-jacques-perspective-space

All Quiet on the Spaceport Front: Maggie Grimason visits Truth or Consequences and finds patience is wearing thin. https://undark.org/article/spaceport-america-new-mexico/

Let there be LightSail: Jason Davis has an update on The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2, whose launch aboard Falcon Heavy is now set for the Fall.

Kenya Enters the CubeSat Age: A homegrown satellite is launched from the International Space Station. https://qz.com/1275698/kenya-to-launch-first-satellite-into-space/

Southern Road Hits Snag as Spaceport America Seeks More Tenants

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space building with a security fence around it. (Credit: Alex Heard)
The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space building with a security fence around it. (Credit: Alex Heard)

A couple of updates on Spaceport America.

Southern Road Project Delayed:  A project aimed at turning a 24-mile dirt road to Spaceport America into a “quasi-paved surface” has hit a snag that will delay the project by two to three months. There has been a mismatch between the corridor proposed for the southern road and an environmental review conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Bill Childress, regional BLM director, said the study examined a route originally specified by the county for the proposed road upgrades. But “when we got the final engineering documents from the county, it didn’t match the documents,” Childress said. “We had to inform the county of that.”

Childress said the route distance that didn’t align was “less than a mile,” mainly in one particular location. The route in the engineering plans was offset from that examined in the environmental study by a distance of about “20 to 30 feet.”


Video: Spaceport America Visitors Center Opens Amid Applause, Protests

Last week, officials opened the new Spaceport America Visitors Center in Truth or Consequences, NM, to both applause and protests.

The issue is the city of Truth or Consequences leased the Lee Belle Johnson Senior Recreation Center to Sun Tours as a location to run bus tours out to Spaceport America. Seniors who used the building have been displaced to what they believe is a less attractive site.

Residents have forced a special election in September to vote on whether the Spaceport America Visitors Center should be moved to another location in the city.

Senior Citizens Being Pushed Aside for Spaceport America Visitors Center

Oh God! As if Spaceport America needed more bad publicity.

Truth or Consequences has voted to rent out a large part of its senior citizens center for a welcome center where tourists will gather to be bused to Spaceport America.

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight:

New Mexico taxpayers spend nearly a quarter billion dollars on a spaceport built for billionaire Richard Branson so he can fly his fellow billionaires and millionaire on space joy rides with the promise of vast economic benefits to the local population. Branson fails to deliver on any of it despite 10 years of effort, leaving taxpayers subsidizing a largely empty spaceport used for occasional sounding rocket launches. And now senior citizens living on fixed incomes are being pushed aside to make way for tourists to go visit a spaceport with no spacecraft.

This is not good. The crown jewel of NewSpace is becoming a cosmic embarrassment.


Spaceport America Seeks Loan for Visitors Center as Road Project Progresses

The mission control room at Spaceport America. (Credit: Alex Heard)
The mission control room at Spaceport America. (Credit: Alex Heard)

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.


Spaceport America’s Incredibly Shrinking Visitor’s Center Threatens Tourism Plans


By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Plans for a visitor’s center at Spaceport America have continued to shrink due to a lack of funding and revenues. And that could pose significant risks to New Mexico’s plans to boost the local economy by attracting more than 200,000 visitors to the remote facility where Virgin Galactic plans to launch tourists into space.

In fact, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority appears to be going down the very path that its own Strategic Business Plan warns will result in a poor visitor experience and fewer tourists paying money to see the high-tech spaceport.


New Mexico Residents Wait for Godot — and Branson — to Show Up

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez with Richard Branson at Spaceport America. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

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.

Spaceport America Hits Bump in the Road

dona_ana_sealPlans 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.


Spaceport America Welcome Center Land Purchase in Dispute

There is another dispute concerning the location of a welcome center for Spaceport America:

The city of Truth or Consequences’ bid to sell 6.2 acres of land to a state agency for the construction of one of two Spaceport America welcome centers was declared invalid last week because municipal officials did not disclose decades-old federal restrictions on the use of the land.


Guest Opinion: All’s Not Well in Spaceport America’s Progress

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space at Spaceport America. (Credit: David Wilson, Spaceport America)

By William I. Buhler
Board Member
T or C Space Center, Inc. 

Contrary to the report on Spaceport progress by Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson in Monday’s Albuquerque Journal, please consider the following:

  • The original scope of the Spaceport called for a runway 10,000 feet long. For safety reasons, officials from Virgin Galactic have recently recommended an addition of 2,000 feet in runway length, which the Spaceport Board approved and agreed to pay for at an additional $7 million that was not mentioned in the article. This length may still prove insufficient since spaceports in other states are planning 14,000-foot to 16,000-foot runways instead of the 12,000 feet now proposed here. (more…)

Virgin Galactic Looks to Build Swanky Hotel in T or C

Photo by Mark Greenberg

Virgin Galactic has eyes on posh hotel in T or C
Las Cruces Sun-News

Truth or Consequences boasts a hodgepodge of local attractions: an expansive lake and tandem state park, a downtown full of quirky art museums and shops and a lineup of natural hot springs.

Not on the list?

An upscale hotel.

But that may be about to change.

The area will need luxury lodging to accommodate the tourists who plan to launch into suborbital space at Spaceport America, said Julia Tizard, operations manager for Virgin Galactic, the British company planning to launch spaceflights 30 miles away from T or C.

That’s because plenty of spaceflight passengers – some 420 have made paid reservations so far – will want more high-end amenities than the area now offers, she said.

Read the full story.


Not Everyone Pleased as Spaceport America Ramps Up

Spaceport America
Spaceport America

Spaceport gets mixed reception in Truth or Consequences
Los Angeles Times

When residents of this isolated place voted in 2008 to tax themselves to pay for an audacious redevelopment scheme — construction of a commercial spaceport in the desert — Kim Audette was an ardent supporter.


Quiet NM Town Divided on Eve of Crucial Spaceport Vote

The small, quiet town of Truth or Consequences, NM – best known for its thriving arts community and its access to hot springs and the state’s largest lake – has been thrust into the center of a debate over our future in space.

On Tuesday, voters in this community of 7,000 will help decide the fate of Spaceport America, New Mexico’s ambitious effort to build a gateway to the heavens. Residents in T or C and throughout Sierra County will vote on a .25 cent increase in the gross receipts tax to help fund the $198 million facility in the southern part of the county. A “yes” vote is crucial to forming a tax district with neighboring Doña Ana and Otera counties.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that the vote could go either way. A pro-spaceport tax group, People for Aerospace, has been campaigning heavily throughout Sierra County, promoting the project’s economic benefits. However, other residents have opposed the tax increase, placing anti-tax signs on T or C streets and staging a rally over the weekend.