Last week I participated in Mesilla Valley Economic Development Associations’ (MVEDA) commercial space panel. Our focus was to discuss growing our awareness and partnerships that support the commercial space industry in our region. The panel included Dumitru Propescu, founder and CEO of ARCA Aerospace. Dumitru has been a colleague and spoke at the first International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) in 2005 here in Las Cruces. It was during this initial exposure to our community that Dumitru began to understand the benefits of our wide open skies for his company. He says he also knew this community was close knit. He is committed to doing as much hiring as he can from our region. He believes he will be able to find the suppliers he needs within the region. He is used to being creative and working efficiently.
ARCA Aerospace is sort of a family business. Friends and family have been involved in the business since its inception in the late 1990’s. With any luck, a few of the long-time employees will come to Las Cruces as the company begins manufacturing its drones at the Las Cruces airport. During the first months as Dumitru met more of our community business leaders, he came to believe this is the right place for ARCA.
Many of us work together for years on development projects like the spaceport. So, it was a matter of a few phone calls and Dumitru had help on his journey to build his company here. MVEDA, the City of Las Cruces, NMSU’s PSL and Arrowhead Center were brought in early on into the discussions. There the conversations blossomed out and finally, we have a new company in town, hiring not only NMSU but Dona Ana Community College students.
On Wednesday, September 2nd, I read about another aerospace company, Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com. Blue Origin founded their private spaceport 40 miles from Van Horn Texas on the Corn Ranch in 2005. Jeff said the New Shepard spacecraft is going to carry three people up to the edge of space and back. I remember when Lonnie Sumpter wrote me about Jeff. Lonnie was the Executive Director of the Southwest Regional Spaceport in the years before Virgin Galactic was founded. Lonnie was ecstatic, finally someone was doing what he wanted New Mexico to do. Not just build a spaceport but build the flight vehicle to make the spaceport a viable launch and recovery site.
Now Blue may be developing a relationship with Florida’s commercial aerospace development office, Space Florida. According to the website, Space Florida is an Independent Special District of the State of Florida…for the purposes of fostering the growth and development of a sustainable and world-leading space industry in Florida. Blue Origin said on August 24th they are planning an announcement in Florida in September. Space News reported in a company statement Jeff Bezos, “will make a significant announcement regarding the emerging commercial launch industry”, September 15th at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
It is also reported, that Space Florida has been working on a Project Panther with a company some say is Blue. Florida is focused on capturing new business for their launch site at Cape Canaveral Spaceport Complex. Rob Meyerson, Blue Origin’s president, said in April at a press conference, “Our long-term goal is to build orbital launch vehicle capabilities.” Space Florida public documents indicate Project Panther involved, “securing long-term land and facility use agreements at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport Complex.” At the Space Florida board meeting on August 19th, it allowed its management to complete the negotiations on those agreements.
New Mexico’s economic development arm is the New Mexico Partnership. They are based in Albuquerque. Steve Vierck, the former CEO of MVEDA is the CEO of the Partnership now. The New Mexico Partnership must work on all sectors or the economy, we do not have the luxury of a space focused state funded economic development organization.
Florida, if this agreement works out, will have captured the second big space company to move and build orbital facilities for commercial operations. Last year, SpaceX decided to build their commercial orbital facilities in Brownsville, Texas. Thinking bid in the space industry can pay off.
Years ago Lonnie worked on a program would have allowed New Mexico to develop a reusable launch facility site for the technology demonstration vehicle X-33 Venture Star. That is what New Mexico eventually did for Virgin Galactic. Sort of. We built a launch complex for a commercial operator, Virgin Galactic. Frankly, in the long run we are better off. You see, NASA cancelled the Venture Star program in 2001, even though we were told later that we had won the competition to bring the program to the state. The commercial concept is consistently being born out, possibly next in Florida.