Important milestone for spaceport

Spaceport America will not sit idle while officials there wait for Virgin Galactic to complete testing and give final approval to the spacecraft that will soon lift paying passengers into suborbital space.

Friday marks another big step forward in the development of the nation's first purpose-built commercial spaceport as UP Aerospace Inc. is scheduled to launch SpaceLoft 7 from Spaceport America sometime between 7 and 10 a.m.

This will not be the first launch from Spaceport America for the Denver-based company, but it will be the first time that launch will be funded by NASA's Flight Opportunities Program. And, the experiments conducted on the suborbital flight could be significant.

The Federal Aviation Administration will test its new Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, a commercial tracking device for use in air traffic control. Current plans will require all aircraft and other flight vehicles operating within U.S. airspace to be equipped with the device by 2020.

The Italian Space Agency will test an instrument to study nano-particle migration and capture, to be used in monitoring pollution and identifying atmospheric contaminants.

And, because education has always been an important component to the development of Spaceport America, there will also be two high school experiments funded by the New Mexico Space Grant.

Finally, the cremains of late Hatch Mayor Judd Nordyke and 34 others will blast off for one final ride.

The flight is expected to last about 15 minutes, including up to four minutes of weightlessness, reaching an altitude of 74 miles before landing about 320 miles downrange at White Sands Missile Range.

This will be the 11th launch from Spaceport America by UP Aerospace. It is one of eight companies under NASA contract to conduct experiments in suborbital space. As our country continues what has been an ongoing transition from NASA to commercial spaceflight, Spaceport America must be poised to take advantage of these new opportunities.

At some point, Virgin Galactic will begin space tourism flights from the spaceport. And there's no question the success of the spaceport will be tied to the fortunes of those flights. But, it is critical that operations not end there.

That was the main impetus behind the fight in the Legislature to get limited liability protection to parts suppliers for companies working out of Spaceport America. That bill wasn't to help Virgin Galactic, but all of the other commercial space companies that will be needed for a healthy, vibrant spaceport.

 

-Las Cruces Sun-News