Virgin Galactic’s Plans Advance in New Mexico

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space terminal hangar facility (center), Spaceport Operations Center (Left) and "Spaceway" (Runway) at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)
The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space terminal hangar facility (center), Spaceport Operations Center (Left) and “Spaceway” (Runway) at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

As engineers in Mojave prepared SpaceShipTwo for a glide flight this week, things were coming together at the suborbital vehicle’s future home in New Mexico.

On Tuesday, Gov. Susana Martinez visited Spaceport America to sign legislation that strengthens legal protections for Virgin Galactic, the company that will build and operate SpaceShipTwo vehicles from the $209 million desert facility near Truth or Consequences.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic and the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) appear to have resolved outstanding issues relating to the completion of construction work at the Spaceport.

The legislation, which passed the Legislature unanimously, expands legal protections against lawsuits from injured passengers and their heirs to include spacecraft manufacturers and suppliers. The law originally protected spaceflight operators from lawsuits except in cases of gross negligence or intentionally harm.

Virgin Galactic is both the operator and manufacturer of SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. Last year, the company bought out Scaled Composites’ interest in the Spaceship Company, which is building the vehicles.

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

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

Virgin Galactic CEO and President George Whitesides issued the following statement praising New Mexico for approving the new legislation:

“This is an important day for the future of commercial space flight in the state of New Mexico. This bill, SB 240, will significantly improve the competitiveness of Spaceport America and help create jobs for New Mexicans. The signing of this bill by Governor Susana Martinez represents a vital milestone for commercial space flight in the state.

“We would like to commend Governor Susana Martinez, the legislators, and all other parties who came together to craft this legislation in the best interests of the entire state. Gov. Martinez has shown leadership and vision, as well as the determination to make this bill a reality. We would also like to thank the legislators who voted to pass this bill, in particular the sponsors, Senator Mary Kay Papen and Rep. Jim White, as well as co-sponsor Senator John Arthur Smith. We’d also like to thank the Senate leadership: Sens. Mary Kay Papen, Michael Sanchez, Stuart Ingle, Tim Keller, and William Payne; thanks also to House leadership: Speaker Ken Martinez and Reps. Rick Miera, Don Bratton, Moe Maestas and Nate Gentry. The legislature acted to promote economic development and the future of the industry in the state. We would also like to thank Christine Anderson and the staff of NMSA, as well as Secretary Jon Barela and the Economic Development Department. Virgin Galactic would also like to express its gratitude to the grassroots coalition of citizens and local organizations that worked so hard on this bill and should be recognized for their efforts.”

Meanwhile, New Mexico appears to have resolved a list of outstanding problems that Virgin Galactic said existed at Spaceport America. The company has been paying rent under protest since February 1. It had given NMSA until March 31 to resolve the issues or it would refuse to pay rent, pay a reduced rent, or withdraw from its 20-year lease.

“Virgin Galactic paid for rent, they are pleased with the facility and busy designing the interior fit out,” said Christine Anderson, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority.