Space firm to launch in NM
By Steve Ramirez SUN-NEWS REPORTER
Dec 8, 2005, 06:00 am
The new race to space, this time with paying customers, could soon become a sprint.
Richard Branson, a British billionaire who is chairman and founder of the Virgin Group — which includes Virgin Galactic — is in final negotiations with the state of New Mexico to conduct launches of his new space tourism vehicles from the Southwest Regional Spaceport that will be built in Upham.
A formal announcement could come as soon as next week.
“We’re comfortable on both sides that there’s an agreement in principle,” said state Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans. “In the last nine months there’s been a lot of back and forth between New Mexico and London (where Virgin headquarters are located). In April and June we went to London, and the Virgin folks have been here four times in the past year to talk to us about technical issues, to take a site visit of the spaceport, for the Countdown to the X Prize Cup, and for selected briefings with elected officials.”
Mayor William “Bill” Mattiace said Virgin Galactic is going to turn dreams into reality.
“There were a lot of skeptics out there who said this couldn’t work,” Mattiace said. “But with a huge investor like Richard Branson, it’s going to have a huge impact on the city of Las Cruces, the state and the country.”
According to a column published in Tuesday’s edition of the New York Times, Virgin Galactic has collected more than $10 million from people who want to take suborbital flights into space. Nearly 30,000 people have already signed up and are willing to pay at least $200,000 each to fly Virgin Galactic into space.
Virgin Galactic intends to conduct its first flights in the spring of 2008, and plans to send more than 700 passengers into space in its first 18 months of operations.
The deal with New Mexico could have far reaching economic benefits to the state.
“This is a case where New Mexico is in the right place at the right time,” Homans said. “Something like this coming to New Mexico will put us in a leadership role for the future of space travel. This is a very exciting time for the state. We’re in a unique position to witness a new industry.”
Homans added that Virgin is the clear industry leader and pacesetter for commercial space travel and space tourism.
Virgin Galactic officials have also had discussions with Florida about starting operations there. It will continue to operate out of the Mojave, Calif., Spaceport, where SpaceShipOne made its historic flights last year.
“They are being sought by many states, and we are proud to have Virgin coming to New Mexico,” Homans said. “It sends a strong signal worldwide.”
Virgin Galactic has partnered with Scaled Composites and Mojave Aerospace to create suborbital space tourism vehicles that will be based on the design of SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004.
Ground breaking for a commercial spaceport in Upham, located about 32 miles north of Las Cruces, is expected to happen in January.
For more information about Virgin Galactic, visit http://www.virgingalactic.com/en/