Spaceport America Gets A New Tenant
May 8, 2013

SpaceX Joining Virgin Galactic At Spaceport America

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez announced on Tuesday that SpaceX has signed a three-year agreement to use Spaceport America for flight testing.

According to a Spaceport America statement, SpaceX will be leasing land and facilities at the New Mexico site to conduct the next phase of flight testing for its reusable rocket program.

“I am thrilled that SpaceX has chosen to make New Mexico its home, bringing their revolutionary 'Grasshopper' rocket and new jobs with them,” Governor Martinez said today. “We´ve done a lot of work to level the playing field so we can compete in the space industry. This is just the first step in broadening the base out at the Spaceport and securing even more tenants. I´m proud to welcome SpaceX to New Mexico.”

SpaceX just finished up its first series of testing the new Grasshopper vehicle in McGregor, Texas. The company is planning to begin the next phase of development for tests performed in New Mexico.

“Spaceport America offers us the physical and regulatory landscape needed to complete the next phase of Grasshopper testing," said SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell. "We are pleased to expand our reusable rocket development infrastructure to New Mexico.”

Virgin Galactic is the other tenant at the state-owned commercial launch site. Virgin had a bit of controversy with Spaceport America in January this year when the company refused to pay the state deposit because it believed the site wasn't up to its standard yet. The Richard Branson company wrote a letter to the Spaceport that it didn't believe the state had finished the work necessary to trigger activation of its annual rental obligation. However, matters have since been solved, and now a new tenant will be there to help pay for some of the cost of the facility.

“We are excited that SpaceX is coming to Spaceport America, where our first-class service will empower them to focus their full attention on their mission," said Christine Anderson, the Spaceport America Executive Director.

The Grasshopper aircraft is a Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle. In the most recent test, Grasshopper leapt 820 feet straight up, hovered in place while holding against the wind, then returned to the launch pad. The spacecraft was designed to test technologies needed to return a rocket back to Earth intact.

Grasshopper's steps towards the 820 feet leap have been gradual. At first, SpaceX had the vehicle fly just 8.2 feet, then a couple months later at 17.7 feet. In December last year, Grasshopper leapt up 131 feet, and then 268 feet three months later. It's only a matter of time until this futuristic spacecraft breaks out of testing and into real-world uses.