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Virgin Galactic signs Spaceport America anchor tenant deal

Suborbital tourism company Virgin Galactic and the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) have come one step closer to agreeing a 20-year deal worth more than $27 million with this week’s signing of a memorandum of agreement.

Virgin Galactic has agreed to use New Mexico's Spaceport America as its primary launch and operational activities site, leasing 7,747m square (83,400 square feet) for a customer service centre, a dedicated hangar and mission control, a staff club house, employee accommodation and medical facilities.

However Virgin Galactic also expects to start commercial operations from Mojave spaceport in California in 2009, before Spaceport America's expected 2010 completion date.

The New Mexico agreement comes one week before crucial referendums in three of the state's counties to decide whether local taxes will be used for the spaceport’s construction.

“This agreement represents a significant commitment by Virgin Galactic to be the anchor tenant at Spaceport America,” says Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn.

The lease could be extended 10-years to 30 years and for the first five years its annual cost to Whitehorn’s company will be $1 million. For years six to 20 that increases to $1.5 million.

Virgin Galactic will also pay yet-to-be-determined user fees and ground rent and a yearly surety bond as a security deposit that is 25% of the annual rental payments.

Under 2006 New Mexican legislation the anchor tenant agreement was one of three criteria that had to be met before the state government released $100 million in construction funds. The criteria are, the anchor tenant deal, a US Federal Aviation Administration spaceport licence and a spaceport construction cost estimate less than £225 million.

But due to a lengthy delay for the FAA licence, on 17 March the NMSA announced that the requirement for all three criteria to be met had been abandoned and the state’s legislature released $33 million for work to begin. Spaceport America is located 72km (45 miles) north of the New Mexico city of Las Cruces.

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