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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Updates on Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America

SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is being held in Colorado through Wednesday. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks are there tweeting away:

Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News

Below are updates on Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America based on their tweets.

George Whitesides
CEO
Virgin Galactic
The Spaceship Company

  • good progress on glide test flight program in 2017
  • Six glide flights so far; 1 more SpaceShipTwo glide flight scheduled before powered flight tests begin in 2018
  • a lot of work underway to prepare SpaceShipTwo for powered flights
  • Italian space agency ASI has signed letter of intent to purchase research flight with Italian payload specialist scheduled for 2019
  • suborbital payload capacity is 1,000 lbs. (453.6 kg) w/ 500 cubic feet (14.16 cubic meters) of pressurized usable volume
  • integration of biological payloads within two hours of flight
  • access to payloads within 30 minutes of land, possibly as short as 5 to 10 minutes
  • company will complete facilities at Spaceport America in 2018
  • working on $1 billion investment by Saudi Arabia that was announced in October

Dan Hicks
CEO
Spaceport America

  • Commercial space industry is worth $339 billion annually and is growing
  • Users of Spaceport America benefit from large area of restricted airspace (adjacent to White Sands Missile Range)
  • Developing a infrastructure development plan that will include a payload processing facility with a cafeteria
  • Officials will present plan to New Mexico lawmakers in several months
  • UP Aerospace plans a sounding rocket launch from Spaceport America in January
  • UP Aerospace using a new rocket motor test facility at the spaceport
  • Possibility of conducting orbital launches from Spaceport America that do not involve dropping hardware over land











Spaceport America Names New CEO

Daniel Hicks
Daniel Hicks

SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM, September 22, 2016 (Spaceport America PR) – Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport located in southern New Mexico in the USA, today announced that the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board of Directors has selected Daniel Hicks as the new Chief Executive Officer.

The announcement follows a search by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board’s Search Committee to identify a new CEO, following the retirement of Christine Anderson, who previously held the position since 2011.

The final step took place today when the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve the appointment of Daniel Hicks as Spaceport America’s Chief Executive Officer.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Tests Starliner Service Module Engines

Starliner engine hot fire (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)
Starliner engine hot fire (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

WHITE SANDS, NM (NASA PR) — The small jets designed to steer Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in orbit were fired in a vacuum chamber recently at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. Testing continues for elements of the new Starliner spacecraft before components are installed into the first space-bound capsule. Aerojet Rocketyne built the reaction control engines and used a chamber to pulse fire three engines up to 4,000 times for a total of 1,600 seconds each. Both are record times for lightweight thrusters with composite chambers.

One of three Reaction Control System engines for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner recently completed hot-fire testing at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico.Aerojet Rocketdyne is testing and will provide the service module propulsion system production hardware, including launch abort engines, orbital maneuvering and attitude control engines and reaction control system engines. Boeing will assemble hardware kits into the service module section of the Starliner spacecraft at its Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Starliner is one of two spacecraft in development in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. While Boeing develops and manufactures Starliners, SpaceX is doing the same with its own spacecraft, Crew Dragon. Both companies plan to launch astronauts from Florida’s Space Coast on missions to the International Space Station. With up to four astronauts at a time, plus more than 200 pounds of cargo, the new line of spacecraft will allow the station’s crew to grow to seven. That addition gives astronauts In orbit another 35 hours of research time to enhance the science conducted on the orbiting laboratory.











Spaceport America, White Sands Sign Agreement on Coordinating Launches

Terminal Hangar Facility at Spaceport America.

White Sands Missile Range and and the New Mexico Spaceport Authority have signed an agreement to coordinate launches from the rocket test facility and the adjoining Spaceport America commercial base:

Establishing a partnership that will continue a long history of space activities, White Sands Missile Range leaders and the New Mexico Spaceport Authority last month signed an agreement to coordinate launch schedules with the range….
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