NM Governor Signs Spaceport America Secrecy Bill

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

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has signed a bill that exempts key information about Virgin Galactic and other tenants and customers at the publicly-funded Spaceport America.

The new law allows the New Mexico Spaceport Authority to keep tenant’s trade secrets and proprietary information secret. According to the law, the following information is exempt from the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act:

(1) proprietary technical or business information, or information that is related to the possible relocation, expansion or operations of its aerospace customers, for which it is demonstrated, based on specific factual evidence, that disclosure of the information would cause substantial competitive harm to the aerospace customer;

(2) trade secrets, as defined in Subsection D of Section 57-3A-2 NMSA 1978; and

(3) information that would compromise the physical security or cybersecurity of authority facilities or an aerospace customer of the authority.

The law defines public records as

all documents, papers, letters, books, maps, tapes, photographs, recordings and other materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that are used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public body and relate to public business, whether or not the records are required by law to be created or maintained.

The final measure was less restrictive than the original bill introduced in January. That legislation would have allowed tenants and customers to keep most of their information secret, including their identities.

Spending by the spaceport authority is not exempt from public scrutiny.

A key issue will be how broadly the spaceport authority interprets the law’s provisions, particularly what constitutes “specific factual evidence.” In the past, spaceport officials have sought to severely restrict public access to records despite having no exemptions from New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act.

Backers of the law said secrecy is necessary to attract new tenants to the spaceport, which has struggled financially due to years of delays by anchor tenant Virgin Galactic in beginning space tourism flights. Richard Branson’s company originally hoped to start commercial service in 2007; the company has yet to conduct even a suborbital flight test of SpaceShipTwo.