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Space News

Spaceport America Takes Off 153

SeaDour writes "Spaceport America, being built north of Las Cruces, New Mexico, is finally becoming a reality and is set to become the world's first commercial spaceport. Governor Bill Richardson recently secured 33 million dollars from the state legislature for the final design, and a proposed 0.25% sales tax increase in Dona Ana County, where the facility is to be constructed, is expected to bring an additional 6.5 million dollars per year (if approved by voters next week). Richard Branson, the head of upstart Virgin Galactic, on Monday agreed to lease the facility for 27.5 million dollars over twenty years. If all continues to go as planned, SpaceShipTwo will make its first suborbital joy ride in two to three years."
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Spaceport America Takes Off

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  • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @03:18PM (#18519097) Journal
    I think if you check out the definitions of commercial available [] from a quick googling, you'll see that the definition typically has nothing to do with whether it's publically or privately funded. What's important is whether the facility will be used to buy or sell commodities (or services) or not.

    Governments have always been involved in commercial operations. The two are not mutually exclusive. This could be a government-run commercial spaceport, or it could be a government-owned-but-privately-run commercial spaceport, or it could be a non-commercial spaceport.

    Commercial != Private.

    Of course, many people believe that government should not be involved in commercial activity at all, which is what I think you're getting at. But it's still perfectly fine to call this a commercial spaceport regardless of who owns or runs it, since goods and services will be bought and sold there.
  • by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @03:27PM (#18519225) Homepage Journal

    A spaceport, by definition, is where you launch and recover spacecraft. So I'd imagine that this spaceport would be used to launch and recover spacecraft.

    More specifically, it will be the launching point for the Virgin Galactic fleet of space tourism vehicles, and will probably also host the launches of various space prize competitions and commercial launch companies.

    If they can provide a cheaper service than ESA or NASA, I don't see why it won't be profitable for the state.

  • by burning-toast ( 925667 ) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @03:42PM (#18519399)
    What I am all for:
    Government funding technology and scientific development in the private sector, and reigning in corporations such as AT&T (well, ok... previously they reigned in AT&T but I am still waiting for the "New" AT&T to be reigned in) when they start abusing their positions of power.

    What I am against:
    The government being the source of funding for "useless" technology, corporations abusing their position like the telecommunications companies currently, or funding pork barrel types of projects or initiatives.

    My opinion is that we want government funding to turn space flight into a future commodity which many can enjoy (especially since NASA's budget has been flagging a lot recently). I certainly do not currently see an issue with their funding unless their actual goals are different than my perceived assumption, or if someone is just trying to make a small fortune off of the American citizens back VIA taxes and subsidies without providing equal compensation to those paying.

    Considering this was FTA:
    Now the voters in the Dona Ana County municipality where the project is to be located will weigh in, in a referendum scheduled for April 3 on a new sales tax to fund the project.

    If Spaceport America meets with voter approval, a maiden space voyage is expected in two to three years. If passed, the new tax would add 25 cents to a 100-dollar purchase, bringing in about 6.5 million dollars per year.

    My take is that the voters will decide, and fortunately we are talking state (county?) legislature, not federal taxes. If you don't like the project, vote against it. If you don't live in that county or other involved counties in New Mexico, don't like it, and hence won't be paying for it, why do you care?

    It seems that this is not really pork barrel spending like the telecommunications stuff was. That (telecommunications stuff) was just a lot of people getting a lot of money, with minimal to no returns for the people actually funding it. And on top of that I don't ever recall there being a method for me to directly vote against any of that telecommunications spending myself, only by proxy of a congress critter.

    This is New Mexico funding a project which could (potentially) net New Mexico tourisim dollars, not to mention all this research and development is (or would be) paying for people to have jobs, and hence, pay taxes into the program.

    I wish them luck, and if they (or the other two states mentioned get this program off of the ground) I might consider taking a tour if the price ever comes down from the clouds or if I happen to get rich.

    (Just my 2 cents)
  • by Ngarrang ( 1023425 ) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @04:16PM (#18519813) Journal
    Earth to Major Tom, we have a problem.

    Some government propping is a good thing (OSHA, Fair Labor Laws). For big business, it is all about who will give the company the best deal, which usually means no taxes. When Miller Brewery built their facility near Trenton, Ohio, they didn't produce any bear at it for a decade. It wasn't until the local government threatened to pull the exempt status that Miller opened the factory and, thus, local workers.

    Wal-Mart in Oxford, Ohio moved its store location to outside the city limits after its tax-exempt status expired. This, after a lot of money was spent to restructure the road their old building was locating within the city, AND the fact that Wal-Mart didn't even build the building, but only leased.

    NM did a good thing. This deal puts them on front of a wave of cutting-edge travel, even if it starting as entertainment for the rich.
  • by AeroIllini ( 726211 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `inilliorea'> on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @04:37PM (#18520135)

    We could even get to the point where we could economically use LEO for quick trips to places halfway around the world.
    I agree with your whole comment, but as a space geek I have to take exception at this statement.

    LEO will never be economical for trips between two points on the Earth's surface. The energies involved in getting to that speed are ridiculously high for that short of a distance (relatively speaking, of course). LEO brings a whole host of problems with it, including high reentry temperatures (due to the high velocity needed to attain LEO to begin with) and ridiculous amounts of fuel needed to reach it.

    To put things in perspective: Burt Rutan and crew basically recreated the very first manned Mercury launch (the one with Al Shephard aboard). It was a sub-orbital launch that placed the rocket on a parabolic trajectory... pretty much the same as if you could throw a ball in the air high enough to just barely leave the atmosphere, and then let it fall back to Earth. Since the velocity of the projectile (or spacecraft) is very small when it reenters the atmosphere, no heat shielding is needed.

    On the other hand, to get a vehicle to low Earth orbit requires balancing the force of gravity exactly with forward velocity to create a stable system. This requires velocities in excess of 17,000 mph, which is why spacecraft reentering from orbit need all kinds of heat shielding to protect the craft from the friction of the atmosphere.

    It would be much more economical for a craft to launch at an angle (or start out in flight at high altitudes, with airbreathing jet engines), and gain just enough energy to leave the atmosphere on a parabolic path that would cross much of the trip in the vacuum of space. Reentering would not need much heat shielding, because the velocities would not be as high as an orbital flight, which would make the trip much safer. Such systems using combinations of airbreathing engines and rockets could be very fuel effecient.

    The space shuttle, just after Main Engine Cutoff, is on a parabolic flight path that will have it reenter and land in the Indian Ocean (if it stayed ballistic; the shuttle also has control surfaces and can steer). During missions, it has to fire the engines several more times after MECO to elevate this orbit and attain LEO.

    Traveling between points on the Earth's surface will almost always be suborbital. However, that being said, finding economical ways to get to LEO in the first place is the first step to economical travel to places like the Moon and beyond.
  • by SEE ( 7681 ) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @04:58PM (#18520397) Homepage
    This is Doña Anna County, New Mexico. The land we're talking about is scrub desert too far from anywhere to be of any use for industry, and too dry to be of any use for any form of agriculture. There's lots of land just like it next door. What's getting government-subsidized is the cost of building the utilities and roads, because the land itself is the next thing to free.

In the realm of scientific observation, luck is granted only to those who are prepared. - Louis Pasteur