By Tony A. Archuleta
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) board of directors at its meeting Wednesday, Sept. 24, in Elephant Butte adopted a resolution authorizing the NMSA to borrow up to $8 million from the state Finance Authority, and/or from one or more institutional lenders, for development and construction of the Spaceport America Visitor Center in Truth or Consequences.
The resolution, No. 2014-004, states the loan will be repaid through the Spaceport Authority’s gross receipts tax revenue bonds, along with proceeds from a facilities lease agreement with spaceport anchor tenant Virgin Galactic.
The Visitor Center will be located at Hot Springs Retail Center on a six-acre parcel directly west of Walmart and overlooking I-25. Part of the loan will go toward the $1.04 million purchase price of the property belonging to local developer Randy Ashbaugh.
“The (Spaceport) Authority has initiated activities, including completion of construction level drawings and selection of the site location, associated with the development of the Spaceport America Visitor Center to be located in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico,” the resolution states.
“The Authority has determined that it shall be required to borrow money and use the proceeds of the loans to finance the development of construction of the Visitor Center, the acquisition of the land, and other spaceport-related projects…”
While the project cost estimate is $6.5 million, Spaceport America Executive Director Christine Anderson said authorization to borrow up to $8 million is required to cover contingencies, including “closing costs.”
SPACEPORT CHIEF’S REPORT
In her report, Anderson said Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are on track to begin flight operations at the spaceport looking ahead to 2015 and beyond.
“SpaceX is getting settled in – most of their vertical launch facilities are set up for them, and we hope to move the rocket here in the next couple of months,” she said, referring to reusable SpaceX F9R with vertical launch/landing capability.
“These are the two biggest and most well respected companies in the commercial space industry – SpaceX and Virgin Galactic – and they’re both tenants at Spaceport America,” said Anderson. “So we are pretty proud to have them there, and excited about when we can start seeing them fly.”
Anderson also noted the spaceport’s first customer, UP Aerospace, will stage its 20th vertical launch in October through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. The experimental payloads will include those by NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense and universities.
Work on the new spaceport entrance project, including a “much nicer entry for security and permanent entrance area,” is ongoing and scheduled for a February 2015 completion date.
And the Gateway Gallery, part of the public visitor experience initiative at the spaceport, is currently in the works – a 4,000-square-foot area featuring exhibits created by the Orlando, Fla.-based IDEAS firm.
“It is going to be a fun place for people to go and learn about commercial space, to learn more about the companies that fly with us, and also the other companies in the industry,” Anderson said.
VIRGIN GALACTIC VP: STILL SAFETY 1ST
Also on hand to give a report at Wednesday’s meeting was Bruce Jackson, Virgin Galactic’s Vice President, Trade Controls and Export Strategy.
Jackson said WhiteKnightTwo, the carrier vehicle of SpaceShipTwo, “is ready for operation” with 168 flights logged to date.
SpaceShipTwo testing is “ongoing” with the completion of 53 test flights and three rocket-powered flights.
“We’re very close now to starting a very rapid succession of powered flights… we don’t work to dates specifically – I know everyone wants a date, but we work to milestones, and again we’re expecting that to come very soon.”
Jackson later reiterated, “Safety is our north star, and we have to make sure that this is a safe experience, it’s something we’re working hard toward. We’re anxious to get out here and operate, and hopefully that will happen soon.”