Last year, the state allocated $9 million to develop the infrastructure, launch, and landing facilities necessary for the spaceport. In May 2004, the non-profit X Prize Foundation awarded the state hosting rights for its X Prize Cup
, a week-long competition designed to showcase private space-related development, beginning in 2006. The state will also host the organization's kickoff event, Countdown to the X Prize Cup, this October.
Estimates of the revenue from the events top $500 million a year, with some $20 million in taxes pouring into state coffers. "In 1947, the first rocket to reach space was launched from New Mexico, so we are proud to be continuing our legacy of leadership in space exploration, and the added bonus is that it has huge economic potential for the state," said Rick Homans, New Mexico's Economic Development Department Secretary, at the September press conference. "This is a tremendous victory for us all."
"They saw the X Prize Cup as a great opportunity," says Knight. "They've wanted to put a spaceport there for over 10 years now, but they've never had a partner. If you're not flying things into space, you don't have a spaceport," he tells Astronomy
. "This will be our permanent home for space flight."
UP Aerospace's most powerful rocket, called SpaceLoft XL, can haul a 110-pound (50 kilogram) payload on a 100-mile-high (161 kilometers) suborbital arc. Knight says the company's innovations bring space within the reach of modest educational grants, such as those from the U.S. Air Force's National Aerospace Leadership Initiative (NALI) and NASA's Space Grant program.
In fact, some of the experiments to be lofted March 2006 originated with high-school students. "The phone is ringing off the hook," says Knight. "We're allowing students to envision much grander things — practical, real science in space."
The flights also allow satellite subsystems to be tested affordably prior to being integrated. "It's a low-cost test bed for the aerospace industry," Knight says.
The New Mexico spaceport lies about 40 miles from Las Cruces. Next year's flight, along with ongoing work to complete an environmental impact statement, will pave the way for a spaceport license from the Federal Aviation Administration. The facility is to be built mostly on state-owned land.