Among the advantages of Spaceport America cited by Gwynne Shotwell, COO and president of SpaceX, in announcing a three-year agreement to lease facilities at the spaceport, were the "physical and regulatory landscape needed ..."

That regulatory landscape changed for the better this past legislative session when an agreement was reached to provide limited lawsuit liability protection to parts suppliers, similar to what had already been passed for anchor tenant Virgin Galactic. Spaceport officials and those from Virgin Galactic had said failure to pass the bill a year earlier had hampered recruitment of other companies to Spaceport America.

We're hopeful the deal reached with SpaceX is a sign that commercial space companies understand that hurdles that had been in place before have now been removed. While Virgin Galactic will play the primary role in the success or failure of the spaceport, it is critical that other companies utilize the facility as well.

"We've done a lot of work to level the playing field so we can compete in the space industry," Gov. Susana Martinez said in a prepared statement. "This is just the first step in broadening the base out at the spaceport and securing even more tenants."

In an April test flight, SpaceX's Grasshopper flew to 820 feet, triple the height of its previous launch, and was able to steady itself, hover and then land. The Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing vehicle is being designed to return the rocket to Earth, rather than having it burn up on re-entry to the atmosphere. The design includes four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers.

Moving to Spaceport America will allow flights beyond the 2,500-foot limit at the current SpaceX testing site in McGregor, Texas, company communications director Christina Ra told the Waco Tribune. It will also give them greater room to try different trajectories, Ra said.

The lease runs for three years and covers both land and equipment at the spaceport. SpaceX will pay $6,600 a month and $25,000 per launch. Ra told the Tribune it was too soon to say how many jobs would move from McGregor to southern New Mexico.

This comes after last week's successful launch of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, which will eventually carry space tourists into suborbital space from Spaceport America.

There is still the issue of the southern road to be worked out with Sierra County officials, but it is encouraging to see that progress continues to be made at the spaceport.

—Las Cruces Sun-News