The Promise of Spaceport America in the Words of its Supporters

Sir Richard Branson and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Sir Richard Branson and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

“This business will mark a milestone in world history, and it will launch a new space industry — a private space industry, driven by innovators and entrepreneurs and new technologies and bold thinkers.”
— Richard Branson

“What we are calling the second space age will open up a wide range of commercial opportunities, including point-to-point cargo delivery, with personal and business travel.”
— Gov. Bill Richardson

Ten years ago today, Virgin Galactic and New Mexico announced a deal for development what became known as Spaceport America. New Mexico would built a $225-million spaceport with taxpayer’s dollars in the desert near Truth or Consequences. Sir Richard Branson’s new space company would sign a 20-year lease to fly tourists aboard SpaceShipTwo from the facility beginning in 2008.  New Mexico also expected the spaceport to be used by UP Aerospace, Starchaser Industries, and Peter Diamandis’ Rocket Racing League and X Prize Cup.

In announcing the deal, officials from the partners and their supporters made many extravagant promises about the wondrous future the partnership would bring. A decade later, New Mexico is still waiting for Virgin Galactic to fly, Starchaser has made little progress, the Rocket Racing League and X Prize Cup are long gone, and voters are still waiting for many of the promised benefits. UP Aerospace has flown many times, turning Spaceport America into the world’s most expensive sounding rocket range.

So, what exactly were the promises that were made? Below are a compilation of what Richardson, Branson, Diamandis and others said at the time.

bill-richardsonBill Richardson
New Mexico Governor

“This is a historic day for our great state, and particularly Southern New Mexico,” said Governor Bill Richardson. “With Virgin at the controls, enthusiasts from around the world will fly to space, routinely and safely, just a few years from now. And they will be flying from the world’s first purpose-built spaceport here in New Mexico. I am excited that New Mexico will be on the ground floor of this new industry, and I know this will mean new companies, more high-wage jobs and opportunities that will move our state’s economy forward.”

“What we are calling the second space age will open up a wide range of commercial opportunities, including point-to-point cargo delivery, with personal and business travel.”

Rick Homans
Secretary, New Mexico Economic Development Department
Chairman, New Mexico Spaceport Authority

“When Burt Rutan and SpaceShipOne won the X PRIZE in October 2004, we knew the new space industry had arrived. And when Sir Richard Branson announced that Virgin would use that same technology to fly paying passengers into space, we realized that our most important job was to convince Virgin Galactic to come to New Mexico and launch the personal spaceflight industry. This announcement is a convergence of dreams and we are proud that Virgin will be New Mexico’s anchor tenant at the world’s most exciting space tourism location.”

Richard Branson waves to the crowd as he leads a group toward the podium. From left to right are New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Rick Homans.
Richard Branson waves to the crowd as he leads a group toward the podium. From left to right are New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Rick Homans.

Richard Branson
Virgin Galactic Founder

“It seems like only yesterday that Virgin Galactic was a dream relying on future technologies. Today, six years later, we have had a successful X PRIZE winning prototype and are now actively engaged on design and development of our commercial space craft ‘SpaceShipTwo’ which will be an eight-astronaut vehicle. When the spaceport is built, we look forward to basing our world headquarters and U.S. operations and a fleet of up to five spaceships and a launch aircraft at the new facility, which will be the first purpose-built private spaceport that the world has ever seen.”

“New Mexico will be known around the world as the launch pad of the new space industry.”

“We intend to take two to three flights a day to space from New Mexico” within a few years.

“We’re going where no one has gone before. There’s no model to follow, nothing to copy. That is what makes this so exciting. We might even be able to allow those aliens who landed at Roswell 50 years ago in a UFO a chance to go home.”

“Of all the projects that I’ve worked on in my life, of all the businesses I’ve started, this is by far the most exciting,” he said. “This business will mark a milestone in world history, and it will launch a new space industry — a private space industry, driven by innovators and entrepreneurs and new technologies and bold thinkers.”

Will Whitehorn
Virgin Galactic President

“New Mexico has worked hard to bring us to their exciting new spaceport facility. The State has several factors that make it an ideal operations base: climate, free airspace, low population density, high altitude, and stunning scenery. Our team was highly impressed by the professionalism and the competitive pitch the state and its advisors developed. We look forward to working together to make the ‘Final Frontier’ a reality for tens of thousands of pioneering space tourists. Our activities will prove the commercial viability and excellent safety technology behind private personal spaceflight and give birth to a new industry in New Mexico.”

“We hope to [fly 500 poeople] in year one…and eventually be carrying up to 10,000 people a year by the later years of the project,” he said.

Victoria Principal
Victoria Principal

Victoria Principal
Actress & Virgin Galactic Ticket Holder

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime and I can’t wait to be one of the first Virgin Galactic customers into space. With only a couple days of training, we will reach an altitude of 400,000 feet and experience weightlessness firsthand. As one of the 100 Virgin Galactic Founders I am proud and excited to be part of this revolutionary venture.”

“I am thrilled about the first Virgin Galactic civilian flight scheduled for 2008 and I look forward to being on it. We’re on an era of a new form of transportation and a way of life that we’ve never known before.”

“We’re on the era of a new form of transportation and a way of life that we’ve never known before, so I’m very proud and very thrilled to be a part of this, and I hope to share my space journey with you.”

Peter Diamandis and Richard Branson.
Peter Diamandis and Richard Branson.

Peter Diamandis

Chairman & CEO
X Prize Foundation

Founder
X Prize Cup

Founder
Rocket Racing League

“We’re thrilled that Governor Richardson was able to bring Virgin Galactic to Southern New Mexico. We also want to congratulate Richard Branson for making an excellent choice. New Mexico has the real-estate, the air space and most of all the political will to be a great home for Virgin Galactic.”

“With companies like Virgin and Starchaser landing in New Mexico, and the finals of the Rocket Racing League, we’re getting the commercial critical mass for the personal spaceflight industry needed to make it successful.”

“Indianapolis was able to attract the Indianapolis 500, and the motor speedway and now there are hundreds of related corporations from the racing teams themselves, to engine manufacturers and merchandise companies. The X Prize Cup vision is to do the same in Southern New Mexico.”

Editor’s Note: I realized I should have provided some status updates on some of the individuals:

  • Sources say Victoria Principal is no longer a Virgin Galactic ticket holder.
  • Bill Richardson departed from office in 2011 after serving a maximum two terms as governor.
  • New Gov. Susana Martinez declined to retain Rick Homas on as head of Spaceport America despite a plea from Richard Branson to do so.
  • Will Whitehorn has since departed Virgin Galactic; he was replaced by George Whitesides.
  • Peter Diamandis folded the X Prize Cup and the Rocket Racing League.