The New Mexico Spaceport Authority has granted Executive Director Steve Landeene the authority to sign a legally binding development agreement with Virgin Galactic, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.
“The agreement commits Virgin Galactic to a 20-year lease to host its space tourism operations at the spaceport but is not an actual lease. Rather, it is a precursor to a lease, Landeene said Sunday,” the paper reports.
News of the agreement could help Spaceport America, which faces a crucial funding vote in just over two weeks. Residents of Sierra County will be going to the polls on April 22 to vote on a .25-cent increase in the sales tax to help fund the spaceport’s construction.
The vote – like a similar measure that was approved by residents in DoÃ±a Ana County – is expected to be close. Opponents have questioned why they should be subsiding a spaceport where the anchor tenant will be Virgin Galactic – a company that plans to fly wealthy tourists on suborbital flights for $200,000 apiece. Sierra County contains a fair number of retirees living on fixed incomes.
In a separate editorial, the Sun-News editors urged Sierra County residents to support the tax increase.
“We believe Spaceport America in particular, and space commercialization in general, can be an important piece of New Mexico’s future economy. And most of the economic benefit will land in our backyard,” the editors wrote.