FROM THE DIRECTOR
This is the first edition of a monthly newsletter from the staff of Spaceport America. If you would like to subscribe to this newsletter, please click on the appropriate link below. We are very busy working toward our shared goal of delivering the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world. It is an exciting journey and one that often has no precedent to guide us. We participate in over 16 regular open meetings each year, in addition to many speaking engagements but we still feel we are not getting enough information to our constituents who are helping us make this dream possible. We hope this newsletter will, in some small measure, be an additional venue to share our progress with you. As always we welcome your comments.
Christine Anderson, Executive Director
New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA)
Spaceport America was first licensed by the FAA for vertical launches in 2008 when we were granted our Launch Site Operator License (LSOL). We have supported 15 vertical launches from the Spaceport since 2006. Some of these were amateur-class launches that did not require an FAA license even though they reached space. Each year, we must pass a license inspection by the FAA in order to retain our LSOL. We passed our most recent inspection on April 26, 2012. We will be pursuing our horizontal LSOL from the FAA in the next several months. We require some test flight data and other information from our anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic, in order to prepare the application for this broadening of our license. The required information has become available from VG in the last few days, so we are moving forward with the FAA application. It is a highly detailed process and will take approximately 8 months. On May 17, we successfully completed installation our Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) at the Spaceport. The AWOS is an FAA-certified weather station that provides wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, visibility, sky conditions, and characterization of current precipitation (i.e. rain, snow, sleet, drizzle, if any). This is a necessary system to support airfield operations, and in particular, horizontal launches. The data will be available to the pilots of space vehicles awaiting take-off and those already airborne, and will be archived and analyzed as an aid in future mission planning and statistical analysis. Our new space operations contractor, White Sands Research and Developers (WSRD), LLC is supporting us in the development of operational policies and procedures that will guide our space launch activities. To that end, we, along with other commercial space vehicle and spaceport operators, will be participating in an FAA commercial space operations training course and exercise later this month. Because commercial space operations have never before been conducted at the rates now planned (as often as multiple missions per day), developing efficient ways to schedule and conduct these missions safely and with minimal detrimental effects on other airspace users will be a learning experience for all including the FAA. We currently expect to host a NASA-sponsored suborbital launch by our customer UP Aerospace in the early fall. This launch will be conducted as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program that is designed to encourage emerging launch system developers and to foster innovative suborbital research. The rocket also will carry several payloads designed and developed by New Mexico student groups as a continuation of the Space Grant Consortium Student Launch Program.
Most of our Phase 1 construction projects are wrapping up with nine out of twelve projects achieving substantial completion. The remaining three construction projects are the Spaceport Operations Center (SOC), The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space (The Gateway) and the communication infrastructure project. The SOC facility is almost complete. We just need to verify that all punch-list items have been addressed and get final approvals from the State Fire Marshall’s Office and the Construction Industries Division (CID). The SOC fit-out contractor is beginning work on the interior design. This building will house the New Mexico Spaceport Authority staff as well as the on-site support contractors that support security, safety, fire and emergency medical services.
We continue to commission and adjust different operational aspects of the project like water and electrical systems to ensure efficient site-wide operations. Meanwhile The Gateway is nearing completion. The punch list is under development and the commissioning within the facility is being worked by the contractor. We will then seek approval by the State Fire Marshall’s Office and CID. The last remaining project in phase 1 is the spaceport communication infrastructure. Internet and IP phone connectivity is being provided by the New Mexico Department of Information Technology (DOIT) and site wide communications integration in the Spaceport facilities is being constructed by an NMSA contractor. We currently have internet fiber and voice lines installed. The scheduled date for completion is October. The New Mexico General Services Department (GSD) awarded a contract on behalf of NMSA to acquire two control van structures to support vertical launch operations at the Spaceport vertical launch site. GSD also awarded a contract to build an air rescue and fire fighting vehicle to support space operations.
Currently there is one paved road into the facility routed through Truth or Consequences. We are working with Sierra County and Dona Ana County to build another access road along the existing county road from I-25 Exit 32. The southern road will be a much more direct path for travelers coming from the southern regions of the State. The BLM is the Federal Agency sponsoring the road and as such, is the authority for related National Environmental Policy Act items. So far, the BLM has rendered a preliminary decision to pursue an Environmental Assessment for the road. NMSA has contracted to perform the related bio and cultural surveys needed to support the final BLM decision that should be rendered by December 2012. Following that decision by the BLM to proceed, Dona Ana County will contract to have the road built with NMSA funding. We are on track to complete the road in December 2013. I met with the BLM Regional Director in May and we met with Dona Ana County to assess progress this week. The road is 23.7 miles long. BLM is hosting a “scoping” meeting at the Hatch High School on June 4, 4-7PM to discuss the scope of the project. The public is welcome to attend.
The Visitor Experience Development project is now proceeding into design development phase, having reached Schematic design level on April 20. In design development, the design team, led by our contractor IDEAS, begins to fully flesh out the program in terms of guest experience and their various associated visitor-related facilities, including two off-site welcome centers, off-site shuttle transportation, the on-site visitors center, on-site shuttle transportation, the entrance/security facility and plaza, and the public gallery inside The Gateway building. The elements of the experience have been selected and vetted based on concept research conducted in our target markets, and the response from the target customers (potential visitors) has been very positive. The demand forecast projected approximately 200,000 visitors to Spaceport America in the first full year of visitor experience operation, and all facility sizing and operational planning has been derived to properly accommodate the associated design day criteria. The plan is to acquire and build these facilities in a step-by-step process, beginning with the selection of locations of the off-site Welcome Centers. NMSA let an RFP for land selection on May 17 and plans to take the next step, issuing an RFP for facilities developer, shortly after the conclusion of land source selection. The facilities developer will build the welcome centers and on-site visitor center to the design spec provided by IDEAS, and lease them back to NMSA. Finally, NMSA will license a firm to operate the visitor experience on behalf of NMSA. Another piece of the puzzle is an overhaul and refresh of the Spaceport America brand and visual identity. The website for Spaceport America, last upgraded in 2008, is set for replacement along with new business cards, stationery, signage, tradeshow booth, etc. We are planning to publicly unveil the new look and website this summer.
In the meantime, if anyone would like to visit Spaceport America, please remember we offer a Preview Tour on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through our exclusive, official tour operator, Follow the Sun Inc. Doña Ana and Sierra County residents may qualify for special discounted rates. For more information and booking, please visit www.ftstours.com.
In the past few months, we have awarded multiple competitively bid contracts for various services at Spaceport America, leading to more local job creation. Many of these are related to developing our operational policies and procedures and performing pre-operational drills and commissioning activities. As mention above, we have contracted WSRD of Las Cruces for the space operations contract, and Fiore Industries, Inc, of Albuquerque to perform both protective services and IT services. Additionally, we have awarded a contract for general maintenance services to Western Building and Development, LLC, of Las Cruces, and a contract to Parametrix of Albuquerque to conduct the Southern Road environmental assessment. In sum these contracts will generate approximately 30 jobs.
MEDIA/ PUBLIC SPEAKING
In the month of May we hosted numerous media representatives including Conde Nast Traveler Magazine, TV Tokyo, ARD German National Public Radio, German newspaper Die Zeit. We also gave interviews to KSFR Public Radio in Santa Fe radio, Popular Science Magazine and Virtuoso Life Magazine. We also met with the Sun-News Editorial Board. Our NMSA guest editorial titles “A World Class Visitor Experience at Spaceport America” ran in the following New Mexico newspapers this month: Sierra County Sentinel, Las Cruces Sun-News, Albuquerque Journal, Las Cruces Bulletin, Silver City Sun-News and the Deming Headlight. We also spoke at the International Facility Managers Association of Albuquerque, the University of New Mexico Physics and Mechanical Engineering Departments and the Astronomical Society of Albuquerque. Upcoming speaking engagements include the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Farm and Ranch Museum on June 7, the Southern Council of Governments (SCOG) Board Meeting on June 14 and the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry in Cloudcroft on June 26.
We participate in many open meetings; some are hosted by NMSA and others are hosted by other organizations. We had a NMSA Special Board meeting April 18 at the NMSA Las Cruces office to approve the award of two contracts. We participated in the SCOG on April 27 in Elephant Butte. We also participated in the quarterly Spaceport Community Council meeting sponsored by the Sierra County Economic Development Organization (SCEDO) on April 11 in Truth or Consequences. We also participated in the monthly Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce Commercial Space Committee Meeting on May 10. Upcoming open meetings are the Spaceport America Regional Space District (SARSD) Board meeting on June 13 in Hatch, and the NMSA Board meeting on May 20 in Las Cruces. Announcements for these meetings will be in the Las Cruces Sun newspaper and on our web site.
We are determined to complete the Spaceport and operate it with NO further State funds other than the original $209M. Fiscal year 2013 which starts July 1 will be the most difficult year as we are transitioning from construction and pre-operation to full operation in 2014 when our steady revenue stream begins. Also various tax bond funds start to “expire” in 2013. The Gross Receipts Tax Bonds from Sierra County and Doña Ana County had an excellent year in 2012 which resulted in “excess pledged revenue” after the bond debt and reserve was paid by the New Mexico Finance Authority that manages the fund. Unlike tax bonds proceeds that cannot be used for operational purposes, the excess pledged revenue can be used for operational purposes. Following approval for release of this excess pledged revenue by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board in August, the Spaceport America Regional Spaceport District in November and the New Mexico Finance Authority Board in March, NMSA received the $293,000 excess pledged revenue. This will allow us to make it through FY 13 by using it to pay some of the rising FY 13 operational costs like the Spaceport electric bill and the internet/communications bill, for example, without asking for any additional tax payer funding. We are grateful for the funds dedicated to this project and are committed to completing and operating it with no additional tax payer contribution.