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.


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