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Tue, Dec 18, 2012

Spaceport America May Lose Virgin Galactic

Space Tourism Company Wants New Mexico To Pass Liability Exemption Laws

With Spaceport America nearly complete but also nearly empty in the New Mexico desert, Virgin Galactic is asking lawmakers in the state to pass new liability exemption laws for its suppliers or risk losing the company to another state. And Spaceport America acknowledges that Sir Richard Branson could easily pack up his tent and set up shop elsewhere.

Spaceport Executive Director Christine Anderson told the Associated Press that they could move on "if they are not committed," but added that she hopes that the company has plans to stay in New Mexico.

Virgin Galactic does have other options, such as facilities in Texas and Florida, which are aggressively courting the commercial space sector. But facilities in those states are re-purposed airports and military bases. Spaceport America was built from the ground up on spec as a place for Virgin Galactic to launch tourists on suborbital flights, and it was expected to become an attraction unto its self, drawing as many as 200,000 tourists a year just to see it, along with high-paying jobs.

Virgin has not yet activated its lease at Spaceport America, and its first flight has been pushed back to sometime in 2014. There is a clause in the lease that would cost the company $2 million if breaks the lease and begins operations within two years in another location, but it has not yet paid the deposit to the state.

George Whitesides, president and CEO of Virgin Galactic, told the AP that it will activate its lease "when the Spaceport Authority finished the level of the work that it has agreed to provide on our building." He denied reports that the company would look elsewhere if the New Mexico legislature did not pass a liability exemption for suppliers for a third year in a row. New Mexico, as well as other states with space facilities, have passed laws protecting the companies carrying passengers from liability, but New Mexico has not passed a law that would protect those in the supply chain for Virgin Galactic or other commercial space companies from liability, as some other states have.

Meanwhile, some in the state say that building the spaceport on the taxpayer's dime was a boondoggle from the start. One resident, a rancher, told the AP that they should convert the "hangar" into something like a concert hall that "would actually generate money."

FMI: http://spaceportamerica.com, www.virgingalactic.com

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