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Spaceport is built, but who will come?

Spaceport is built, but who will come?

Mon September 24, 2012 10:32am

TOURISM officials say the $200bn project will be New Mexico's version of the Sydney Opera House, but where on earth will people stay?

But as phase one of Spaceport America, the world's first commercial port built specifically for sending tourists and payloads into space, is nearing completion, the only new hotel project that has been finalised is a Holiday Inn Express here in Truth or Consequences, about 40 kilometres away. And three key companies with millions of dollars in payroll have passed on developing operations in the state.

The lagging development, along with competition from heavy hitters like Florida and Texas, is raising new questions about the viability of theproject - as well as the rush by so many states to grab a piece of the commercial spaceport pie. To date, nine spaceports are planned around the US, mostly at existing airports, and another 10 have been proposed, according to a recent report from the New Mexico Spaceport Authority.

"Right now, the industry is not there to support it,'' Alex Ignatiev, a University of Houston physics professor and adviser to space companies, said of the list of planned and proposed spaceports across the US.

Andrew Nelson, COO of XCOR Aerospace, disagrees, saying "in the next couple to three years, there's going to be a demonstrative reduction in the cost to launch stuff ... so we are going to have a lot more people coming out of the woodwork.''

Currently, the Spaceport can count on two rocket companies that send vertical payloads into space and Virgin Galactic, the Branson space tourism venture that says it has signed up more than 500 wealthy adventurers for $US200,000 ($192,000)-per-person spaceflights. Other leaders in the race to commercialise the business and send tourists into space have been passing on New Mexico.

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