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.

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The Promise of Spaceport America in the Words of its Supporters

Sir Richard Branson and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Sir Richard Branson and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

“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.

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A Brief History of NewSpace Suborbital Launches

SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

This week, the The FAA has on its website lists of the 216 licensed and 28 permitted launches the agency has approved since 1989. They provide fascinating insights into the state of the U.S. launch industry during that period.

In this excerpt, we will examine permitted and licensed “NewSpace” suborbital launches by Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Scaled Composites and SpaceX. We will see how prizes and competitions have helped to spur on launch vehicle development, the long gaps that can follow initial spurts of progress as companies take the next steps, and how few flights some billionaires are actually getting for their money.

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New Mexico Not Suffering From Lack of X Prize Cup

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Economy, rule change ground X Prize plans
Las Cruces Sun-News

The X Prize Cup, an event aimed at spurring innovation in space technology, won’t be held this year in southern New Mexico, as it has in recent years…

Plus, Landeene said, the state wasn’t able to sponsor the event financially this year because of the poor economy. He said early on, the state invested about $2 million in sponsorships for the event. Later, when it moved to Alamogordo, the level dropped to about $750,000. But even that isn’t possible this year, he said.The two-day spaceflight symposium took place this week in Las Cruces, but without the X Prize Cup.

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X Prize Looks to Alamogordo Airport for 2009

Airport could house X Prize
Alamogordo Daily News

“The New Mexico Spaceport Authority and Alamogordo White Sands Regional Airport officials are discussing the possibility of conducting an infrastructure study to possibly hold the 2009 X Prize Lunar Lander Challenge and related events at the airport in Alamogordo.

“Alamogordo Airport coordinator Parker Bradley said a resolution was approved by city commissioners to continue discussions with spaceport authorities for the study Tuesday.”