Southern Road Hits Snag as Spaceport America Seeks More Tenants

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space building with a security fence around it. (Credit: Alex Heard)
The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space building with a security fence around it. (Credit: Alex Heard)

A couple of updates on Spaceport America.

Southern Road Project Delayed:  A project aimed at turning a 24-mile dirt road to Spaceport America into a “quasi-paved surface” has hit a snag that will delay the project by two to three months. There has been a mismatch between the corridor proposed for the southern road and an environmental review conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Bill Childress, regional BLM director, said the study examined a route originally specified by the county for the proposed road upgrades. But “when we got the final engineering documents from the county, it didn’t match the documents,” Childress said. “We had to inform the county of that.”

Childress said the route distance that didn’t align was “less than a mile,” mainly in one particular location. The route in the engineering plans was offset from that examined in the environmental study by a distance of about “20 to 30 feet.”

Childress said the county faced two options: reconfiguring its construction plans to match the corridor reviewed in the environmental study or having the route that’s in the engineering plans reviewed as part of the environmental study. He acknowledged the environmental study could open variables in the project duration, considering the area tends to have a high density of cultural artifacts. If any new sites were found, they’d have to be studied, he said.

Armijo told commissioners he’s moving ahead with redesigning the construction plans and not carrying out additional work on the environmental study. The redesigning will add a two- to three-month delay to the project time line, he said.

Spaceport America Goes to Plan B.  An improved southern road would enhance efforts by New Mexico Spaceport Authority officials to attract other tenants to the spaceport as they await the long-delayed start of commercial spaceflights by Virgin Galactic, which suffered a setback last October when the first SpaceShipTwo crashed during a flight test.

Some of the initiatives are in line with the spaceport’s launch mission — for example, its use by rocketeer tenants ranging from SpaceX to UP Aerospace. Other initiatives extend that mission into other aerospace fields — such as the spaceport’s efforts to bring in satellite ground operations and drone test flights.

But still other initiatives are pretty far afield from flight. A local company is running guided bus tours to the spaceport, even though there are no takeoffs. Some companies are taking advantage of the facility’s 12,000-foot runway to shoot motorcycle and car commercials. There’s even a plan to host concerts and weddings.

“They’re just throwing things at the dartboard,” said New Mexico state Sen. George Munoz, who introduced a bill this year to sell off the spaceport. The bill didn’t become law, but Munoz hasn’t given up. He still wants to see the facility managed by the private sector rather than state officials….

For some, patience has run out. “We’ve already paid almost $300 million on this boondoggle,” Sophia Peron said as she held up a protest sign in Truth or Consequences, 28 miles north of the spaceport.

Truth or Consequences is the town that’s closest to the spaceport’s “small city.” The place is best-known for its Old West flavor and its hot-spring spas. Its population of 6,400, give or take, is a blend of retirees, families and artsy types — and for years they’ve been hoping to see an economic boost from the spaceport.

Those hopes took a big hit last October, said Jeff Dukatt, who runs a tie-dye shop on the road that leads from Truth or Consequences to the spaceport. “The interest died significantly after the crash,” he told NBC News.