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.
The New Mexico Legislature was generous to Spaceport America this year, providing nearly $17 million to pay for operating expenses and a series of upgrades designed to allow the struggling facility to attract more tenants.
The funding includes $10 million for a new satellite testing and development hangar, $5 million for a fuel farm, $500,000 for a launch vehicle payload integration facility, and $500,000 to repair and upgrade “electrical, fire suppression, water, sewer, security, mission control, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and building systems.”
The appropriation for the new hangar is contingent on the New Mexico Spaceport Authority contracting with a tenant that specializes in advanced aerospace products and technologies.
The spaceport also received $975,900 from the state’s general fund to fund its operations.
Spaceport America has struggled due to more than a decades of delays that have plagued anchor tenant Virgin Galactic. Richard Branson’s suborbital space tourism company is continuing to test SpaceShipTwo Unity at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The company has not set a date for the start of commercial operations in New Mexico.
A bill designed to shield information about Spaceport America from public scrutiny was approved unanimously by the New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday. The vote paves the way for the full Senate to consider the measure.
The bill had been previously approved by the Senate Public Affairs Committee without recommendation. It must pass the Senate and the House before the legislative session ends on Thursday.
New Mexico legislators are making another attempt to shield the records of the taxpayer-funded Spaceport America from public scrutiny.
A new bill co-sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen (D-Las Cruces) and Sen. William F. Burt (R-Alamogordo) would limit public access to spaceport and customer records across a broad range of categories.
Visitors to Spaceport America will soon be able to imbibe under a law signed by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.
With commercial spaceflights still a long way off, the cash-strapped New Mexico Spaceport Authority requested a liquor license to expand the number and types of non-aerospace events it can host there.
Meanwhile, two measures aimed at encouraging space development in Washington State have fizzled in the Legislature as elected officials grappled with more urgent priorities. Neither one is expected to make it out of committee during the present legislative session.
One bill would create a space exploration center. The other would have provided tax incentives to spacecraft manufacturers similar to the ones enjoyed by aircraft producer Boeing.
The latter bill is considered crucial to Blue Origin, which has a production facility located in Kent, Wash. The company is in the process of deciding whether to manufacture its new BE-4 engine in Washington or at a facility under development in Florida.
Ship Entered Inverted Flat Spin Officials Downplayed Incident at Time Near Disaster Cancelled Glide Flight at Spaceport America
The SpaceShipTwo vehicle that crashed one year ago nearly met its end three years earlier during a hair-raising flight test that officials at builder Scaled Composites and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic downplayed at the time, according to documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
As engineers in Mojave prepared SpaceShipTwo for a glide flight this week, things were coming together at the suborbital vehicle’s future home in New Mexico.
On Tuesday, Gov. Susana Martinez visited Spaceport America to sign legislation that strengthens legal protections for Virgin Galactic, the company that will build and operate SpaceShipTwo vehicles from the $209 million desert facility near Truth or Consequences.
Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic and the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) appear to have resolved outstanding issues relating to the completion of construction work at the Spaceport.
SPACEPORT AMERICA (Susana Martinez PR)– Following unanimous passage by the state’s legislature, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez signed legislation today expanding existing liability protections for spaceflight operators to spaceflight manufacturers and suppliers. The New Mexico Expanded Space Flight Informed Consent Act prevents lawsuit abuse and addresses the inherent risks of space flight and is written to ensure New Mexico’s Spaceport America remains at the forefront of a nationally-competitive and rapidly-growing commercial space industry.
Texas State Rep. Rene Oliveira has introduced legislation that would allow for the closing of public beaches to accommodate space flight activities. The bill is designed to support operations at the launch facility that SpaceX is considering building near Brownsville.
The legislation requires special approval of the General Land Office for any launch dates on:
the Saturday or Sunday preceding Memorial Day;
a Saturday after Memorial Day but before Labor Day; or
a Sunday after Memorial Day but before Labor Day.
Over in New Mexico a revision of the state’s spaceflight informed consent law passed a key hurdle when the Senate Public Affairs Committee approved the House version of the legislation.
Both houses passed identical bills by unanimous margins, but each half must approve both bills before the measure is sent to Gov. Susana Martinez for signature.
The Senate action occurred a day after Gov. Martinez and Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides urged legislators to finish work on the measure. The legislative session ends on March 16.
At a luncheon with business leaders on Tuesday, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides urged state legislators to complete work on an informed consent law designed to protect the space company from lawsuits.
Whitesides also laid out a schedule for powered flights of SpaceShipTwo that has the vehicle flying into space by the end of the year. The appearance coincided with the release of a picture showing the latest test firing of the rocket’s hybrid motor in Mojave, Calif.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides was in Albuquerque yesterday, telling local business leaders that New Mexico has fallen behind other states in restricting the rights of passengers and their heirs to sue companies like his own in the event of injuries or deaths during spaceflights.
“The state of New Mexico and its taxpayers have made a huge investment in commercial space and in order to protect that investment, it needs to remain in relative parity with other states,” Whitesides said.
“The fact is that the current situation will keep companies from locating in New Mexico and at the spaceport. The bills would change that and would really open the door to new business,” he said.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez will make a renewed push to have an informed consent law extended to spacecraft manufacturers and supplier in order to make Spaceport America more competitive. An effort earlier this year failed due to the oppositi0n of trail lawyers.
The renewed push, set for next year’s legislative session, comes as news broke that the Mojave Air and Space Port in California is hiring former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is being hired as a consultant to get similar legislation pushed in the Golden State. The Albuquerque Journal reports:
Scott Darnell, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, said, “Richardson is certainly free to consult or help with the spaceport activities of another state, but in New Mexico, this just highlights how important it is for us to ensure that we continue to lead in this industry by passing legislation in the upcoming session that prevents lawsuit abuse.”
Governor Susana Martinez issued the following statement following Senator Harrison Schmittâ€™s decision to withdraw his nomination to serve as the Stateâ€™s Secretary of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources:
â€œSenator Schmitt is a former NASA astronaut who underwent a complete background check by the Department of Public Safety as part of his nomination process.
â€œSenator Schmitt was willing to allow a private investigator access to his personal information, but he was not willing to waive that investigatorâ€™s liability for any improper actions or use of that information. While one can understand Senator Schmittâ€™s concerns, complying with the Legislatureâ€™s request is necessary to restore public confidence in state government. Thatâ€™s why I am requiring all of my cabinet secretary designees to comply with that request and this has led to Senator Schmitt withdrawing his nomination.
â€œI wish Senator Schmitt the best in his future endeavors and I will work swiftly to find a qualified replacement to lead New Mexicoâ€™s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.â€
SANTA FE â€“ Governor Susana Martinez announced today that she has made appointments to all positions on the Spaceport Authority Board of Directors. The appointments come as the Martinez administration continues to review all boards and commissions to make necessary adjustments and ensure that New Mexicoâ€™s taxpayers receive the best possible return on their investment. Each member has agreed not to conduct business with the Spaceport for two years after leaving their position on the board.