Look Out, Cape Canaveral! Here’s Comes Mexico

As the United States struggles to rebuild a commercial launch sector that has been largely decimated by cheaper – and ITAR free – overseas competition, another low-cost spaceport is rising in its own backyard:

The headquarters of the Mexican Space Agency will be built in the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo thanks to an investment of $120 million made public on Tuesday by Gov. Felix Gonzalez Canto.

The Space Center will be built in Chetumal, the state capital, on the border with Belize and Guatemala. At the site will be a launch pad, a runway, an underwater training unit and the space museum.

The site was selected because of the similarities it has to the environment at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to a communique issued by the Quintana Roo government.

The new spaceport will likely be much smaller than Kennedy Space Center, but the location means that costs will be significantly lower than in the United States. The site is also equatorial, making it ideal for communication satellite launches.

The drive to create AEXA (Agencia Espacial Mexicana) has been led by Mexican-American astronaut José Moreno Hernández, who is a NASA astronaut. Lawmakers have approved the creation of the new agency, which was proposed by President Felipe Calderon.

The effort is getting assistance from the Russian space agency Roscosmos. In April, RIA Novosti reported:

Russia and Mexico signed an agreement on cooperation in space research and exploration for peaceful purposes in 1996. In March 2009, a delegation of experts from Russian space agency Roscosmos visited the Latin American state to discuss the creation of the Mexican space agency with local lawmakers.

After the talks, Roscosmos deputy head Sergei Savelyev said Russia was ready to help Mexico develop its national space program on a commercial basis.

The article quoted Hernandez as saying that it will take about 10 years for Mexico to be able to launch its own rockets.

The Obama Administration has proposed spending $1.9 billion to rebuilt the infrastructure at Cape Canaveral to make the spaceport more efficient and attractive to commercial launch providers. The Administration also has proposed spending billions to build up the commercial space sector and to research new rocket technologies. Congress is now debating the budget, and it is likely to make cuts in each area.