New building, future roof concerns and repairs at Spaceport board meeting

Repairs including fixing foundations to the building ‘spontaneously shattering windows’ and skylights on leased buildings.

By: - June 21, 2023 4:45 am

The Spaceport Operations Center houses the state’s spaceport operations like offices, firefighter dorms and equipment and a control room.The state recently completed needed repairs to the building’s two foundations, that after flooding, shifted, causing interior cracking and “spontaneous shattering of windows,” which are now fixed, Executive Director Scott McLaughlin told the board in a Friday, June 16, 2023 meeting. (Danielle Prokop / Source NM)

Repairs and renovations at New Mexico’s spaceport were prominent topics at last week’s New Mexico Spaceport Authority governance meeting.

The Truth or Consequences-adjacent spaceport is hosting the Spaceport America Cup Wednesday – where about 150 student teams from universities compete with different rocket designs and fuel types. The competition accounts for about 80% of all launches from the spaceport.

Washed-out roads and flash flooding postponed parts of the 2022 competition, and the agency is still working through some of the repairs from last year’s heavy monsoon season.

Completed repairs included fixing all 40 skylights after some started leaking into the Gateway to Space building, leased to spaceflight company Virgin Galactic. The building houses the company’s hangar for its space plane, control room and offices.

The undulating roof has about five more years of life, and lengthening that would entail costly fixes, Executive Director Scott McLaughlin told the governance board at Friday’s meeting. The agency commissioned a survey of the roof, which Source NM has requested a copy of through a public records request.

The report detailed options for extending the life of the roof. The cheapest option would be an $800,000 repair and recoat of the roof, which would only last a couple of years, and would need to be redone, he said. The other options ranged from $1.5 million to more than $3 million dollars to replace the roof completely, he said in the presentation.

“None of these are very happy options, right? Eight-hundred thousand dollars is not cheap, and it’s not a long-term solution,” he said. “But $3 million is expensive.”

The costs for the skylight fixes and roof survey totaled nearly $300,000, McLaughlin said.

The VSS Eve space plane enters the hanger in the Gateway to Space building at Spaceport America on June 12, 2023. The Gateway to Space building is leased to Virgin Galactic, and may need several million dollars in roof rennovations in the next five years. (Danielle Prokop / Source NM)

Another problem is the hard water causing mineral build-up, causing damage to pipes and the firetrucks. The Spaceport will install an expensive water treatment system to remove the minerals, adding that to its utilities costs.The agency completed another repair to the two foundations beneath the Spaceport Operations Center, McLaughlin said.

That building includes the agency’s offices, fire department equipment and dorms, and a second control center with a view of the runway. One foundation holds up the domed roof, the other supports the building.

Repairs addressed damage from the foundations’ movement, including fixing interior cracks and “windows that would shatter spontaneously,” he said.

A $1 million dollar contract to design the new reception and IT center was awarded to Buffalo Design Architects in June. The 117-page request for bid is looking for a 30,000-square foot building including staff offices, conference rooms, an auditorium, cafeteria, dining area and server storage.

Buffalo Design Architects, an Albuquerque firm, estimated the costs to actually build something like that would range between $45 million and $60 million.

The original bonds – totaling $220 million – used to build the operational center and Gateway to Space buildings between 2008 and 2014 will not be paid off until 2029.

The spaceport is still in the process of renewing its reentry license, allowing planes and spacecraft to land at the location after launch, with the Federal Administration Agency. That will require an environmental impact statement and archeological survey.

The agency put out a request for bid on that work, and submissions are due at the end of the month. The agency plans to select a contractor in July.

The spaceport brought in $7.8 million in rents from tenants and other revenue, McLaughlin said. The total annual budget for the agency is nearly $11 million. The revenues pay for about 70% of the spaceport’s operations, McLaughlin told the board.

“That doesn’t include any of the infrastructure or any of the major repairs, but in terms of operating budget, we’re able to sustain that,” he said.

Virgin Galactic announced it expects to start its long-promised suborbital space flights (between 50 miles to 70 miles above Earth’s surface) from Spaceport once a month in August. A flight with the Italian Air Force which has been postponed since 2021 is scheduled to launch at the tail-end of June, a spokesperson said in an email.


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Danielle Prokop
Danielle Prokop

Danielle Prokop covers the environment and local government in Southern New Mexico for Source NM. Her coverage has delved into climate crisis on the Rio Grande, water litigation and health impacts from pollution. She is based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.