AP NEWS

Spaceport America enhances New Mexico’s future

March 18, 2019 GMT

Over the past several years, Spaceport America has seen increased launch activity and attracted new customers to the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport. Excitement was especially high in 2014, when Virgin Galactic seemed on the verge of taking everyday people into suborbital space. An unfortunate accident during a test flight from the Mojave Desert put those expectations on hold, but 2019 promises to be the year — quite fitting as it is the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.

Thanks to Spaceport America, New Mexico soon will be welcoming a new group of tourists to the Land of Enchantment from around the world, most of whom will likely be seeing New Mexico for the first time.

Spaceport America has not been idle: In fact, more than 200 vertical and horizontal launches have occurred there in the past few years. Spaceport already includes some of the major space companies as customers. On March 2 of this year, EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technologies Inc., a leading developer of reusable space launch vehicles, launched a rocket that carried commercial payloads for suborbital research by NASA and the Mayo Clinic. Up Aerospace is another suborbital launch provider that recently completed two successful launches for NASA research experiments at the spaceport and has more launches scheduled in 2019. And Spaceport America provided the location for multiple drop tests by Boeing of the new International Space Station Crew Transportation Capsule. In addition, Spaceport America just signed a contract with SpinLaunch and expects to sign several additional customers in the next several months.

On April 7, kicking off the weeklong Las Cruces Space Festival, Spaceport America will sponsor a “fly in” for pilots and an open house — a terrific opportunity for all New Mexicans to visit this unique facility. And the third Annual Rocket Cup, the world’s largest intercollegiate rocket engineering conference and launch competition, will begin the week of June 17, bringing over 120 teams and 1,500 students to Southern New Mexico, showcasing for future professionals in the space industry the attractions of New Mexico.

New Mexico, with its licensed inland spaceport, has the opportunity to attract commercial space market investments to New Mexico. An October 2017 report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimated the 2016 commercial space market to be $339 billion and anticipates that it will continue to attract major investments. New Mexico already has a substantial space economy, including not only major companies like SolAero and Descartes but also the Air Force Research Lab and two national laboratories. We also have outstanding universities with major engineering and science programs to grow the space workforce of the future.

Spaceport America provides a key anchor around which the state can develop a large and thriving aerospace and commercial space economy. Investing in Spaceport America and in the infrastructure to grow this industry will enhance New Mexico’s 21st-century future.

Anne Watkins is a longtime resident of New Mexico. She serves on the executive committee for Ambassadors for Spaceport America and on the education and workforce committee for New Space New Mexico. She lives in Santa Fe.