Spaceport America Seeks Loan for Visitors Center as Road Project Progresses

The mission control room at Spaceport America. (Credit: Alex Heard)
The mission control room at Spaceport America. (Credit: Alex Heard)

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) has approved borrowing $6.5 million to build a Spaceport America visitors center in Truth or Consequences. Meanwhile, Dona Ana County officials are preparing to bid out a contract to pave a southern road that leads to the remote spaceport.

However, the projects won’t measure up to the original plans for them due to funding limitations. The budget squeeze is a result of years of delay in the start of commercial operations by Spaceport America’s anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic.

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Tax Intended to Fund Spaceport America Construction Now Funding Operations

Credit: David Wilson, Spaceport America
Credit: David Wilson, Spaceport America

The delay in the start of Virgin Galactic flights has forced the New Mexico Spaceport Authority to partially fund operations of Spaceport America from a gross receipts tax originally approved to pay for the facility’s construction. It’s a practice one state senator now wants to end but which the spaceport’s management says is essentially to keeping the lights on.

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Measure to Redistribute Spaceport America Education Funding Advances in NM Legislature

The Terminal Hangar Facility at Spaceport America will house Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: David Wilson, Spaceport America)
The Terminal Hangar Facility at Spaceport America will house Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: David Wilson, Spaceport America)

Eager to convince skeptical southern New Mexico voters to approve a tax hike to help fund the construction of Spaceport America, then-Gov. Bill Richardson promised that the revenues would bring millions of dollars in direct support to local schools.

Voters in Sierra and Dona Ana counties approved a quarter-cent increase in the local use tax, and Richardson kept his promise. The tax has raised $32 million in revenues so far, with a quarter of it — $8 million — going to local schools to fund additional teachers and new programs.

Now, with Richardson gone due to term limits, that deal is in danger of unraveling as legislators from other areas of the state are eying the revenue.

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Spaceports Roundup: SpaceX Buys Land, Kodiak Plans Launch, NM Schools Fear Funding Loss

Artist's conception of the proposed SpaceX commercial launch facility near Brownsville, Texas.
Artist’s conception of the proposed SpaceX commercial launch facility near Brownsville, Texas.

A brief roundup of spaceport news in Texas, New Mexico and Alaska:

Brownsville, Texas — SpaceX has increased its land holdings in the Boca Chica Beach area from 12 undeveloped lots to 72 lots, the Valley Morning Star reports. The company is considering building a private launch complex on the Texas Gulf Coast from which to launch its commercial missions. SpaceX and local officials is awaiting the completion of an environmental review by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Read the full story.

Las Cruces, New Mexico — A deal to provide local schools with funding in return for residents supporting a tax increase to fund Spaceport America could unravel. A state legislator has asked that funds raised for this purpose be considered as part of a larger program that redistributes tax revenues to support schools statewide. Millions of dollars in tax revenues that currently fund Sierra and Doña Ana county public schools are at risk.

Read the full story.

Kodiak, Alaska — The flight-challenged Kodiak Launch Complex has only one rocket launch scheduled for 2014, but it is pursuing three additional ones for future years. “Things are coming in,” said Alaska Aerospace Corp. COO Mark Greby.  “We’ve got people coming in the door now. We’ll get some of them.” The state is eager to see more launches from the spaceport in order to reduce subsidies. Officials are also looking at using Kodiak to support drone flights and monitor launches from other spaceports, including the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia.

Read the full story.

Spaceport America Hits Bump in the Road

dona_ana_sealPlans to pave a road that would provide more direct access to Spaceport America from Las Cruces have hit a snag over design and budget issues.

Engineers in Doña Ana County did a design for the project, which involves paving 23.7 miles of dirt road between the village of Hatch and the spaceport. However, officials in Sierra County — where 16.7 miles of the paving would be done — don’t like the plan because they believe the road would be too expensive to maintain once paved.

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Spaceport America Tax Money Not Reaching Schools

An artist's conception of a Virgin Galactic flight above Spaceport America in New Mexico
An artist's conception of a Virgin Galactic flight above Spaceport America in New Mexico

Spaceport tax not adding up for area schools
Las Cruces Sun-News

Educational dollars from a spaceport sales tax in Doña Ana County have yet to actually reach schools because of a dispute between county commissioners and school officials about how the money should be spent.

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Dona Ana County to Appoint Members to Spaceport America Tax Board

County commission to pick spaceport tax board members, others
Las Cruces Sun-News

Doña Ana County commissioners on Tuesday will appoint members to a board that will oversee revenue from a county spaceport tax.

Commissioners also will appoint representatives to a spectrum of other local boards. The commission will pick two members to serve with Sierra County officials on the board of the spaceport district. The district will oversee the channeling of spaceport tax dollars to Spaceport America for its construction.

Sierra County Voters Approve Spaceport America Tax

Voters in Sierra County overwhelmingly approved an increase in the sales tax to help fund Spaceport America, New Mexico’s ambitious effort to build a gateway to the stars.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that 65 percent of voters approved the .25 cent tax increase, a wider margin than some had predicted. The 42 percent turnout was the highest ever for a special election.

“I’m feeling good,” New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Steve Landeene said. “It’s been an emotional day and obviously the outcome is a very positive emotion.”

The approval means that a taxation district can be formally established with Dona Ana County, whose residents narrowly approved the tax increase last year. Voters in neighboring Otera County will go to the polls in November.

New Mexico hopes the spaceport will be used for a variety of purposes, most prominently to send tourists on suborbital flights. The state is in negotiations with London-based Virgin Galactic to be an anchor tenant.

Quiet NM Town Divided on Eve of Crucial Spaceport Vote

The small, quiet town of Truth or Consequences, NM – best known for its thriving arts community and its access to hot springs and the state’s largest lake – has been thrust into the center of a debate over our future in space.

On Tuesday, voters in this community of 7,000 will help decide the fate of Spaceport America, New Mexico’s ambitious effort to build a gateway to the heavens. Residents in T or C and throughout Sierra County will vote on a .25 cent increase in the gross receipts tax to help fund the $198 million facility in the southern part of the county. A “yes” vote is crucial to forming a tax district with neighboring Doña Ana and Otera counties.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that the vote could go either way. A pro-spaceport tax group, People for Aerospace, has been campaigning heavily throughout Sierra County, promoting the project’s economic benefits. However, other residents have opposed the tax increase, placing anti-tax signs on T or C streets and staging a rally over the weekend.

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Virgin Galactic Dangles Free Spaceflight in Front of NM Voters

Only days before a crucial public vote on funding Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic has dangled the offer of one free spaceflight per year if residents approve a tax increase to help fund the spaceport.

The Las Cruces Sun-Times, quoting an Albuquerque Journal story, reports that Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn made the offer on Tuesday during a public forum in Truth or Consequences. The London-based company is expected to be an anchor tenant at the desert facility.

Voters in T or C and throughout Sierra County will go to the polls on Tuesday to vote on a .25 cent increase in the gross receipts tax. Approval is required to form a three-county tax district with Doña Ana and Otera counties.

Only one resident in the three counties would be able to go on a suborbital flight per year. The flights are being retailed at $200,000 each.

The vote in Sierra County is expected to be close, as was the one last year in Doña Ana County. (Otera residents have yet to vote.) The sprawling, sparsely populated county has about 12,600 residents, one in five of whom live below the poverty line. More than 28 percent of residents are 65 years or older. And Sierra County’s median household income in 2004 was only $23,821, less than two-thirds of New Mexico’s $37,838 median income.