LAS CRUCES – With growing activity in commercial spaceflight and startups entering the industry, Las Cruces sees opportunities to attract more aerospace investment to the region – including the role its municipal airport could play in l ‘effort.
Las Cruces International Airport, built as a military air base during WWII and transferred to the city in 1955, is working on an updated master plan, a requirement for its certification with the Federal Aviation Administration, and a guide to Town planning as a facility looks at short and long term needs, including opportunities for economic development.
As airport administrator Andy Hume says, the plan “ensures that the elements you need for growth are in place or, if they aren’t, how we put them in place.”
A new focus for the airport master plan will be aerospace and the improvements that could be made to the airport to make Las Cruces more attractive to the industry, as commercial activity is expected to intensify next year. at Spaceport America 50 miles north of town.
While the spaceport is best known for its primary tenant, spaceflight company Virgin Galactic, other tenants and customers are also active in the remote facility outside of Truth or Consequences, such as UP Aerospace, SpinLaunch and HAPSMobile / Aerovironment.
Hume tells the Las Cruces Soleil-News that the most recent master plan, adopted in 2018, did not assess proximity to the spaceport or aerospace growth, even though Virgin Galactic is a “fairly stable presence” at the airport, engineers flying between Las Cruces and its manufacturing base of operations in Mojave, CA
A blueprint update consultant said in an interview that Las Cruces is already “on the map” for US aerospace and well positioned to attract more companies involved in manufacturing and supply chains to the growing industries of reusable satellites and rockets.
James Bennett, director of regulation at aerospace technology company Immortal Data, said Las Cruces had established itself in the minds of space entrepreneurs in 2006, when it hosted the rocket and d moon landing X Prize Cup. By then, the first construction of the Sierra County Spaceport had already started.
Immortal Data, which is developing a data system payload to be launched by UP Aerospace, has had an office at Las Cruces Airport since 2019 when it moved from Mojave.
The company is now acting as a subcontractor for updating the master plan being prepared by the engineering and consulting firm Dubois et King.
“We believe there is an opportunity,” Bennett said.
However, there is some catching up to do with public capital investment. Private sector money is flowing much faster and developments are accelerating.
Virgin Galactic made its first two crewed flights to the edge of space over New Mexico this year, and rival Blue Origin has also flown passengers into space on two occasions from its facility near Van Horn. , in Texas. SpaceX is transporting human crews to the International Space Station for the NASA space agency and could test a new prototype for orbital flights as early as November.
Interest in satellite and rocket technology is also high. Bennett remarked, “I think I see a new startup announced every week nowadays,” adding that around 120 companies around the world are developing or building launch vehicles. While most of these startups are expected to go, he said the industry is here to stay.
This means that commercial space companies are actively looking for optimal locations to take root, and Bennett said Las Cruces has a valuable base.
“It’s economical, because you have a low cost of ownership,” he said. “There is a good university locally and three or four good universities with aerospace talent a few hours away. You have an incubator [at New Mexico State University] which is very commercial-space-savvy. These are all good ingredients.
The question for this master plan update, he said, is whether Las Cruces Airport could become Mojave’s new airport, providing an equally convenient access point to move new technology around. towards rapid turnaround testing or commercial operations at the spaceport.
The airport is adjacent to an industrial park and completed crucial pavement improvements a year ago. There are three runways which can accommodate arrivals and departures in six directions.
One, however, is in need of maintenance, and Hume said the city hopes to extend the length of the other two to 8,600 feet and 10,500 feet, respectively.
This would accommodate heavier aircraft, including commercial passenger jet launches from the airport.
Hume explained that currently, loaded passenger jets can land at the airport, but can only take off empty in accordance with FAA regulations.
The two men said the planning update will present city officials with an assessment of potential investments that are conducive to industry needs, financial risks and strategic priorities to attract private sector investment. Bennett said the planning document will present decision makers with a phased plan for immediate needs as well as 5 and 10 year plans to position themselves for regional aerospace activity.
“It’s going to be looked at by purposeful people asking the tough questions, and we want to make sure we have a well-researched set of options,” Bennett said.