Spaceport America needs NM legislative support to survive

Friday, November 16, 2012 - 5:33pm

There's real concern that the quarter of a billion dollars New Mexico has invested in Spaceport America could be gone.

Just 55 miles north of Las Cruces, the Spaceport is the world's first purpose-built, commercial spaceport. As its almost complete with Virgin Galactic being the first tenant to operate out of the facility, there's only one obstacle now in the way.

It's a bill that's been turned down twice as legislation meant to better protect the space industry from lawsuits; something Spaceport America says is imperative to its survival.

"They realize this is a dangerous adventure and they still want to do it. Now Virgin Galactic as the tour operator is protected right now under state law and what we're trying to do is expand that to suppliers and everybody else involved," said Bill Allen, the President and CEO of the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce.

Failing to pass that bill is what is keeping space tourists from flying into space as soon as a year from now.

"The deal we signed up for was a bustling spaceport that had multiple tenants there, I have to tell you, Spaceport is losing opportunity to get new business," said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides.

Texas, Colorado, Florida and Virginia have this protection that means New Mexico is missing out on opportunities.

"The relationships that we've built with the industry may not continue unless we're able to devise a plan acceptable to our legislators so they can support this," said Ben Woods with the Spaceport Authority.

To help, supporters launched a grass roots effort called Save Our Spaceport Coalition.

"Because this is a statewide issue not a Southern New Mexico issue, we're reaching out to the the entire state to get their local legislators up to speed on why and when we need to take care of this," said Allen.

If the bill doesn't pass a lot is at stake, not just losing Virgin Galactic.

"A chance to take advantage of a great and burgeoning industry, the commercial space industry a place where our college graduates can work when they're done," said Allen.

The legislative session starting in mid January may be their last chance. Because there will 2/3 new representation this legislature, the support of the bill is unknown however Governor Martinez says she will sign the bill if it makes it to her desk.


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