More turmoil for Spaceport America

The new year has not been a good one so far for Spaceport America, the commercial spaceport under construction in southern New Mexico. Early this month executive director Rick Homans resigned, apparently at the insistence of the administration of new governor Susana Martinez, who took office on New Year’s Day. On Thursday the governor announced the formation of a six-person “transition team” to examine the status of the spaceport and its finances. And late Friday Gov. Martinez dismissed the spaceport’s board, saying the spaceport needed “more robust private investment and new leadership to make necessary adjustments”, according to a statement obtained by the Las Cruces Sun-News.

An article in Sunday’ Albuquerque Journal suggests her concerns about management of the spaceport have some legitimacy. The article notes that the work on the spaceport was divvied up into 14 “bid packages” without a single prime contractor, which made it hard to manage the project; that may have led to the resignation last year of then-executive director Steve Landeene, according to the article. (Previous reports had suggested a conflict of interest over a land deal near the spaceport might have triggered the resignation.)

The article also raises questions about whether the spaceport will need to spend $10-20 million in the near future on a second runway at the spaceport to allow flight operations if there are crosswinds on the current runway. Homans said that there had been “some” research on the sensitive of SpaceShipTwo to crosswinds, but that most likely the problem would be addressed by flying in the morning when winds are at a minimum.

One issue with the article is that it suggests that delays in building the spaceport are the main reason flight operations haven’t begun there. “In early 2007, plans called for launches of small Virgin Galactic craft from the site to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere by the end of 2009, news report show,” the article states. However, even if the spaceport had been completed by 2009 or 2010, it still wouldn’t be hosting regular commercial spaceflights as development of SpaceShipTwo has also been delayed. (The spaceport actually has hosted some launches of sounding rockets by UP Aerospace, but these don’t require the expensive infrastructure being built for Virgin Galactic.) So the spaceport may indeed be running behind schedule, but it’s not the only thing taking longer than planned.

8 comments to More turmoil for Spaceport America

  • DocM

    What do you expect with a govt. managed project? Same story with Boston’s big dig etc: pieces get handed out to the pols contributors with little coordination, but plenty of delays & overruns. We have a couple here in Michigan that are also disasters.

  • The whole problem is having a “spaceport” precede the launchers, rockets which are to use it. The airport did not precede the airplane.

    The spaceport cannot anticipate the requirements of the users until there are users. A premature spaceport will simply generate user fees, costs which will drive off potential users.

    The spaceport is simply a real estate deal.

    • Spaceport America doesn’t try to anticipate the requirements of the users. That’s the beauty of their approach. They start with an empty patch of desert, then build to the customer’s requirements. That dramatic Terminal Hangar Facility is being done to Virgin Galactic’s specifications.

      At the other end of the scale is UP Aerospace. They have a concrete slab, a prefab assembly building, a launch rail, and a mission control trailer. They have been flying sounding rockets from Spaceport America for a few years now.

      This is what they mean when they call themselves the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport – they’ll build it to the specifications of commercial operators, as they show up.

  • [...] More turmoil for Spaceport America from Personal Spaceflight  The new year has not been a good one so far for Spaceport America, the commercial spaceport under construction in southern New Mexico. Early this month executive director Rick Homans resigned, apparently at the insistence of the administration of new governor Susana Martinez, who took office on New Year’s Day. On Thursday the governor announced the formation of a six-person “transition team” to examine the … [...]

  • [...] Times Blog, New Scientist, Parabolic Arc 23.12.2010, Las Cruces Sun News, Alamogordo Daily News 9., New Space Journal 16., Cosmic Log [...]

  • Does anyone wonder why they have not received their Lanuch Site Operators License froym the FAA to support Virgins Flights?? Perhaps its the lack of having their own airspace corridor to fly in!!! Oklahoma doesn’t have all the bells and whistles on the ground but they do have the only airspace corridor approved for space flight in the NAS that is not associated with a MOA or Restricted Airspace. And by the way, they have almost three miles of runway that is 300 feet wide!!!! Not to shabby!!!!

    • It’s partly because the FAA needs to know a lot of details about the vehicles – their performance envelope, their ground handling requirements, and a lot of other safety details – before they can issue the license for the vehicles to operate from the spaceport.

      And as we know, the vehicles aren’t done yet!

      Once Virgin’s flight test program is complete, the FAA license should immediately follow.

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