Old Spanish trail in the path of Spaceport's FAA licence, possibly delaying Virgin Galactic's New Mexico hopes

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History could delay authority's $1m a year income and block Virgin Galactic progress

The proximity of an historic Spanish Empire trading route to New Mexico's Spaceport America is set to delay major construction work, potentially putting back the 2010 start of the $1 million a year lease to be agreed with anchor tenant Virgin Galactic.

The impact of spaceport operations on the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, which is a federally managed trail for public use, is an issue for the environmental assessment that New Mexico's Spaceport Authority has to complete with the Federal Aviation Administration to obtain its spaceport licence.

Space tourism start-up Virgin Galactic has been planning to fly from Spaceport America from 2010. It would pay $1 million a year until 2015 under its spaceport lease. But construction work, which should have started this year, could be delayed to 2008 because the state's Spaceport Authority does not expect its licence from the FAA until the latter half of this year.

Under the state's rules for releasing $100 million of construction funds, the Spaceport Authority needs an FAA licence, an anchor tenant and construction bids of no more than $225 million. The next obstacle for the authority is a 3 April plebiscite in three New Mexican counties to approve an increase in a local sales tax for construction funding.

El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro ("The Royal Road of the Interior" in Spanish) was a 2,600km (1,600 mile) long trade route between Mexico City and Santa Fe, New Mexico from 1598 to 1882. A 650km section of the Camino Real (not to be confused with El Camino Real in California) lies within the USA and is managed jointly by the National Park Service and the US Bureau of Land Management..