New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) Executive Director Christine Anderson briefed Dona Ana C0unty officials on the status of Spaceport America on Tuesday.
Anderson told commissioners that anchor tenant Virgin Galactic has talked about beginning flight tests on its second SpaceShipTwo vehicle this year, ” so “perhaps” the company will be able to begin commercial flights from Spaceport America in 2016.
Virgin Galactic had planned to begin commercial space tourism flights from Spaceport America in 2015. However, the crash of the SpaceShipTwo prototype during a flight test on Oct. 31 has delayed those plans.
Anderson said tenant and user fees par covering more than 50 percent of the spaceport’s operating budget. Virgin Galactic and other tenants have paid $2.9 million in spaceport rent and fees since 2013, Anderson said.
The spaceport still needs $1.7 million this year from the state government to pay for its overhead.
NMSA is continuing efforts to attract other tenants to the spaceport. The authority recently hired a marketing director, Tammara Anderton, to oversee the effort, Anderson said.
Enhances tours of the spaceport intended to bring in more revenue will begin in about a month, Anderson said. Exhibits for visitors have been inside the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space structure at the spaceport. A visitors center where tourists will gather to board buses to the site will be opened in downtown Truth or Consequences.
Dona Ana County commissioners continued to stand behind the $218.5 million spaceport and they are looking to spend more money on the project.
Commission chair Billy Garrett is all for a project to improve the main road to the spaceport, and eventually build an interstate interchange in Upham to make it easier for everyone to get there.
“We get that kind of thing in place,” Garrett said. “And it will be real clear to some of the big businesses that can use this facility that we’re serious about wanting their business.”
Garrett said that doing those improvements, and continuing to commit to Spaceport America, will change everything.
“If you look at bringing in big tour busses and semis bringing missile parts and all that sort of thing,” Garrett said. “Trying to get through that particular interchange is just a little farm overpass. That’s all it is. And this needs to be changed.”
The spaceport is accessible via a road from Truth or Consequences. With only a 24-mile dirt road to the site from the south, the majority of visitors from Las Cruces and Truth and Hatch must drive north of the site to Truth or Consequences and then double back to the spaceport.
Anderson said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management expects to complete an environmental assessment of a plan to pave the dirt road by July. She expected the county would be able to put the project out to bid in August and award a contract in October.
The budget for this phase of the road improvement project is $14.2 million, which will allow for a tar and chip surface. Additional funding will need to be allocated in the future to give the road a highway-type surface.
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