A Brief History of Spaceport America

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

UPDATED: 8/20/19, 12:08 p.m. PDT

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Sometime in 2020, if all goes according to plan, British billionaire Richard Branson will board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity at Spaceport America in New Mexico and take the first commercial suborbital space flight in history.

The landmark flight, which Virgin has been trying to conduct for 15 years, will also be the culmination of a 30-year effort by New Mexico to become a commercial space power.

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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.

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NM & Virgin Galactic Announced Spaceport America Deal 10 Years Ago

Early Spaceport America artwork showed facilities built underground. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Early Spaceport America artwork showed facilities built underground. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Space Tourism Flashback
10 Years Ago Today

SANTE FE, NM, Dec. 14, 2005 (Gov. Bill Richardson PR) — Governor Bill Richardson and Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Companies, today announced that Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space tourism business, will locate its world headquarters and Mission Control in New Mexico. The agreement between the State of New Mexico and Virgin Galactic calls for New Mexico to build a $225 million spaceport in the southern part of the state, on 27- square miles of state land.

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Former NMSA Director Homans Finds Job in Florida

Richard Branson, Bill Richardson and Rick Homans at the Spaceport America runway dedication ceremony.

Former New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Rick Homans has found a new job in Florida. The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation has hired him as its chief executive officer and president, starting on Jan. 17. Homans and the corporation are negotiating a 3-year contract.

Homans had two stint running the NMSA, which oversees the construction and operations of the state’s $209 million Spaceport America facility. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez elected not to keep Homans in that post when she took over from Democratic predecessor Bill Richardson.

You can read the full story here.











Homans Disputes Gov. Martinez’s Claims He Was Uncooperative

Former New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Rick Homans has fired back at Gov. Susana Martinez’s claim that he was uncooperative with her transition team:

In your Sunday story, Governor Martinez declares that the Board of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority and me, its Executive Director, withheld information from her and the transition team.

This allegation is wholly untruthful.
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Branson Urged Governor Martinez to Keep Rick Homans as NMSA Chief

Sir Richard Branson and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

In an interview with the Las Cruces Sun-News, Gov. Susana Martinez said she dismissed New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Rick Homans despite a plea from Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson:

Martinez acknowledged that Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson called her to request that former spaceport Executive Director Rick Homans be retained, but said she needed to make a change, in part because her team has not been able to conduct a thorough review of spaceport operations. She removed both Homans and the spaceport board, and has yet to name replacements.

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Martinez Sacks Spaceport Board as Problems at Spaceport America Surface

Terminal Hangar Facility at Spaceport America.

Gov. Susana Martinez sacked the entire New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board of Directors on Friday. Two days later, the Albuquerque Journal published an investigative report exposing construction delays, poor planning, and weak managerial oversight on the $209-million desert spaceport outside of Truth or Consequences.

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Spaceport America Update: Building Boarded Up for Redesign

Terminal Hangar Facility at Spaceport America.

I found some additional details on a construction delay that occurred late last year at Spaceport America. The Albuquerque Journal reported on Nov. 30:

One of two major structures under construction at the New Mexico Spaceport has been boarded up as officials re-evaluate its interior design.
The $2.9 million aircraft rescue and firefighting building was about 70 percent complete when workers were told to pack up, demobilize and return as late as April of next year.

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Rick Homans’ Letter of Resignation as NMSA Executive Director

Richard Branson, Bill Richardson and Rick Homans at the Spaceport America runway dedication ceremony.

To: Board of Directors, New Mexico Spaceport Authority
From: Rick Homans, Executive Director
Date: January 5, 2011
Re: Resignation

First, let me start by thanking each of you on the Board for your commitment to the NMSA and the Spaceport Authority. I have valued the many years that we have worked together. I particularly want to thank Ben Woods, who has served as Chairman for the last six months. We have all benefited from his steady hand and his reasoned approach to complex issues.

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Homans: New Governor Must Make “Complete Commitment” to Spaceport America

Richard Branson, Bill Richardson and Rick Homans at the Spaceport America runway dedication ceremony.

In a blunt letter of resignation to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board of Directors, outgoing Executive Director Rick Homas said that the $210 million effort to bring commercial space to the state requires a “complete commitment” from new Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to succeed:

“As of January 1, the Martinez Administration owns Spaceport America and all of its potential. The change that is taking place today is all part of taking ownership, and preparing for the challenges and heavy-lifting that lies ahead.

“Now that we have the spaceport nearly built, the harder work begins — we have to attract the customers, the operators, the manufacturers, suppliers and the R & D. We have to turn Spaceport America, and the surrounding communities, into a major visitor destination. We have to BE the leader of this new commercial spaceflight industry. All this is possible, but only if the Governor leads the way. She has to believe in the project and its massive potential to create jobs and impact education. She has to become its biggest champion and rally her Administration to support this effort. There is no middle ground – nothing short of complete commitment from Governor Martinez and her Administration will allow this project to achieve its full potential, which is the promise we made to the citizens of New Mexico, and particularly the citizens of Dona Ana and Sierra counties who taxed themselves to make Spaceport America happen.

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