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Spaceport America

Spaceport America

Spaceport America (formerly named Southwest Regional Spaceport) is a commercial spaceport currently being developed on of state-owned desert near Upham, an uninhabited place in Sierra County, New Mexico. The site is north of Las Cruces, and east of Truth or Consequences, near the perimeter of the White Sands Missile Range. As of early 2007, the "fledgling spaceport" consists of "a by concrete slab." Five suborbital rocket launches from the site have been reported to date.

History

The creation of Spaceport America was the result of a long term effort by many individuals to bring orbital launch and recovery operations and infrastructure to southern New Mexico. The initial spaceport concept was suggested in 1990 by Dr. Burton Lee (Stanford University), who proposed the creation of a land recovery facility for commercial and government orbital re-entry capsules. Lee authored the initial business and strategic plans, secured seed funding in the amount of $1.4 million through a congressional earmark with the assistance of Sen. Pete Domenici, and worked closely with Bernie McCune and Len Sugerman of the NMSU Physical Science Laboratory (PSL) to develop local support for the spaceport concept. The non-profit group Southwest Regional Space Task Force was created in 1992 by Dr. Ave Tombes, VP for Research and Economic Development at NMSU, in response to these successful efforts to obtain congressional and local support for the initiative. The Taskforce coordinated local and statewide efforts to promote the Southwest Regional Spaceport (SWRS), as it was originally designated, including ties with federal organizations such as White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). During 1993-1994, the spaceport concept morphed to focus on launch-to-orbit facilities and operations, initially intended to support the NASA/Lockheed VentureStar single-stage-to-orbit program.
The SWRS was renamed Spaceport America in 2006 after Governor Bill Richardson and Secy. Rick Homans adopted the spaceport initiative as a formal state of New Mexico economic development program, with Virgin Galactic slated to be the first anchor tenant. New Mexico Legislature has not created a bill reflecting the name change. Spaceport co-founders since 1990 include Lou Gomez, Bill Gutman, Rick Homans, Burton Lee, Bernie McCune, Gov. Bill Richardson, Hanson Scott, Len Sugerman, and Lonnie Sumpter, among others (see below for a link to the Official Spaceport America History presentation, as of October 2007).
Spaceport America is intended to be the first built-from-scratch commercial spaceport in the United States of America. The $225 million venture was announced in mid-December 2005 in Santa Fe. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic plans to launch its first flight from the spaceport in 2009. Virgin has already collected its $200,000 per-person fee from the first 100 passengers. Once completed, Spaceport America is expected to be the venue for the annual X Prize Cup suborbital spaceflight competitions.

Funding and construction

Construction of a temporary launch facility at the spaceport site began on April 4, 2006. The early operations of the spaceport are thus dependent on temporary infrastructure, some of it borrowed from neighboring White Sands Missile Range.

On April 3, 2007 voters in neighboring Doña Ana County approved a spaceport tax referendum, which passed by only 270 out of nearly 18,000 votes cast. Although collection of the tax was set to begin in January 2008, in order for collection of the tax to begin, a spaceport district had to be created, which required that the tax be approved and collected in at least two counties. Since only voters in Doña Ana county had approved the tax as of January 2008, collection of the tax was placed on hold. In April 2008, voters in Sierra County, the actual home of the proposed spaceport, approved the collection of the Spaceport Tax in their county, thus finally enabling the creation of a spaceport tax district and freeing the disposition of over $40 million in funding. Voters in a third county, Otero, will vote in the November 2008 general election on whether to impose a spaceport tax.

The first images of what the new Virgin Galactic spaceport terminal will look like were released in early September 2007. Designed by Foster + Partners, with construction advice being given by the URS Corporation, construction is expected to begin in 2008 and be completed by 2010.

Launches

The first launch from the site was the unsuccessful maiden flight of the SpaceLoft XL rocket. On September 25, 2006 the rocket, launched by Connecticut firm UP Aerospace, veered off course shortly after lift-off. The rocket went into a tail spin and did not reach space, instead crashing into a desolate portion of the White Sands Missile Range. A second Spaceloft XL was successfully launched April 28, 2007. The primary payload of the second launch was cremated human remains, including those of astronaut Gordon Cooper and Star Trek actor James Doohan.

Launch Date (UTC) Vehicle Payload Launch pad Launch contractor Result Remarks
1 September 25 2006 SpaceLoft XL Various Launch tower UP Aerospace Failure Loss of control shortly after launch
2 April 28 2007 SpaceLoft XL Celestis and other payloads Launch tower UP Aerospace Success
3 December 19 2007 SpaceLoft XL? Technology Demonstration Launch tower UP Aerospace Success Low-altitude atmospheric launch. Did not reach space.
4 December 2007 Space plane prototype None Launch tower UP Aerospace Success Proprietary technology launch for Lockheed Martin
5 August 12 2008 Space plane prototype None Launch tower UP Aerospace Success (Spaceport America & UP Aerospace view) Anomalous (Lockeed-Martin view) Proprietary technology launch for Lockheed Martin

See also

References

External links

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