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.

  • Hemingway

    Today New Mexico has its tenth anniversary of the announcement of Spaceport America – December 14, 2005 — “Governor Bill Richardson and Sir Richard Branson Announce Virgin Galactic Will Locate World Headquarters and Mission Control at World’s First Purpose-Built Spaceport in New Mexico.”
    http://votesmart.org/public-statement/142566/governor-bill-richardson-and-sir-richard-branson-announce-virgin-galactic-will-locate-world-headquarters-and-mission-control-at-worlds-first-purpose-#.VmC5Gb98upB

    This is the outrageous “pie in the sky” report that sold the spaceport to New Mexico leaders. Someone should hold Futron accountable for this misinformation as New Mexico approaches the tenth anniversary of the Bill Richardson’s announcement – sad for New Mexicans. It deserves a re-read to bring us to a reality about Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America.

    http://www.rymdturism.se/images/pdf/Futron-New-Mexico-Commercial-Spaceport-Economic-Impact-Study-Dec-2005.pdf

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    500 people a year is about 10 people a week. You can do that with a couple of Portacabins. 10,000 a year is about 27 people a day. Make one of the Portacabins the size of a classroom and call it a bar. This spaceport was always going to be a small organisation.

  • Obediah Headstrong

    What humbug it turned out to be. Good for a laughter and worth to be forgotten. I wonder why Branson still hasn’t pulled the plug.

  • Richard

    Well I have to say that I’m pretty impressed, Virgin has just launched it’s 70,000th paying passenger into space and the fleet of SS2 and WK2 launch vehicles all around the spaceport are a spectacular sight, especially with the new SS3 orbital rocket entering it’s first commercial service and on orbit holidays in the inflatable virgin hotel available to all.
    Well done VG and Brandson, you certainly lived up to all the hype in 2005 and really did prove that NASA and ULA were dinosaurs seeing both of them collapse in 2012 under the glare of your awesomeness.

  • TimR

    America’s spaceport was a big part of what has been called the New Space industry. it has led to other space ports and ones that are costing the taxpayers much less. Brandon cannot abandon his commitment to NM’s! Period!

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The promise of Spaceport America was it’s proximity to White Sands Missile Range. The problem of Spaceport America is it’s presence to White Sands Missile Range.

  • JS_faster

    You touched on one of the big problems with NewSpace. Most think that in order to attract investment and public interest one must have impressive visuals with fancy models and mockups. And they are sadly right. But most of these do nothing to accomplish the goal of launching things, and instead most of their effort goes into pandering to rich investors and precious little actual work gets done. Too many people who get used to making a living raising money or selling things that never leave the ground. And that isn’t even counting those that just have delusions of grandeur…

  • JS_faster

    yes he can. Just watch him (or VG’s board of directors anyway)…

  • JS_faster

    Ouch…

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I think one of interesting side notes out of all this will be that Bill Richardson was the spiritual head of this from the governmental side. A man who prided himself in understanding the mind of a person who would hijack scarce government resources in times of economic woe to further a pet project of a chief executive. A subject I heard him give in an interview in depth when he was dealing with Kim Jr of North Korea back in the 90’s (I believe). Spaceport America should have started out at Roswell at the aerospace maint and regen facility there, as a few shacks and a hanger (as mentioned by A M Swallow) and allowed to grow as needed. I need to make the road trip out and see the place before the gov of NM closes the place down.

  • This what we got for a quarter of a billion bucks!

  • JS_faster

    ROW is where airplanes go to die.

    All of the spacecraft that have ever launched out of SA have used the vertical pads. You couldn’t do that from ROW. Roswell is just as middle-of-no-where for aerospace as SA. Which is why it wasn’t chosen.

    “If you build it they will come.” Doesn’t mean they will come right away…

  • patb2009

    doesn’t take much for a vertical launch though. A small support building, and a big empty place to let the stage hit…

  • Douglas Messier

    Vertical launch doesn’t require much. We’ve got two amateur ranges north of Mojave. Can’t go as high as in NM, of course. Don’t know what’s been spent on these things over the years, but I’d be surprised if it exceeded single millions. If vertical launch is all Spaceport America is good for, they could probably have saved $200 million or more on facilities and infrastructure.

  • JS_faster

    Which is why they built SA next to WSMR and not ROW that is directly adjacent to a small city.

  • JS_faster

    If VG (and NewSpace in general) can get its act together and actually put their hardware where their mouths are, SA’s beautifully expensive runway and vertical pads would/could be a prudent investment. Or at least a useful one…

  • Douglas Messier

    Well….yes. That’s been true for 10 years.

  • JS_faster

    Yup. So much potential…

  • patb2009

    without being argumentative, i think i’d like to see your cost breakdown of what you think goes into a spaceport…

    perhaps you could sort it out between a HTHL facility and a Vertical Launch and impact facility..

  • JS_faster

    You are being argumentative. They are apples and oranges. There are “spaceports” which are just regular airports which have paid for/filed the paperwork to be labeled as such. Some are within and conjoined with urban areas.

    AFAIK there are no vertical launch “spaceports” (not model rocketry clubs or test stands) that do not have extensive acreage devoted to the range. While the actual launch facility might be smaller than runways, the range is either vastly larger or is out over water.

    But… while the costs for the physical assets are different, the legal and administrative costs are relatively similar.

    I hope that helps. The processes the various “spaceports” and rocket ranges around the country and world, public and private have gone thru is pretty well documented.

  • Scott

    This one looks an awful lot like the “foreclosure/banking crisis”…and no one went to jail.

  • JS_faster

    Caveat emptor.