To avoid a lengthy delay New Mexico's legislature has abandoned its three criteria for releasing $100 million of construction funding for the proposed $198 million spaceport, a future launch site for Virgin Galactic's suborbital space tourism venture.
In 2006 the New Mexican government required its newly formed Spaceport Authority to meet three criteria before releasing the money. It was to obtain a cost estimate for the spaceport not exceeding $225 million, arrange for an anchor tenant, expected to be Virgin Galactic, and acquire a US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spaceport licence.
Award of an FAA licence has been held up to 2008 following concerns about a nearby historic trail, the El Camino Real. This meant a potential year-long delay to start of operations for the spaceport (Flight International, 27 February - 6 March).
As a result the New Mexican legislature has just released the first $33 million of the $100 million, which will pay for the spaceport’s final design and related road construction.
In a statement, only placed on the authority’s website on 17 March, authority chairman and cabinet secretary for economic development Rick Homans said, “The legislature gave its unanimous support to move forward aggressively with the spaceport. With the support of this year's session we will be able to keep to our ambitious schedule to be operational by late 2009 or early 2010.”
However in order to receive the remaining $67 million, the Authority must be licensed by the FAA. Although the legislature accelerated construction spending it did not release $25 million of appropriated state road construction funds that had been allocated for the spaceport area.
On 3 April referendums for increasing local sales taxes to raise construction revenue for the spaceport will take place in New Mexico's Dona Ana, Sierra and Otera counties. If the Dona Ana referendum returns a no verdict the spaceport project will probably have to stop as that county would have provided a crucial $49 million through sales tax revenue.