With its first launch still scheduled for mid-May, New Mexico’s fledgling commercial spaceport is the scene of a flurry of construction work.
Concrete is being poured, the launch pad is being fabricated and other associated infrastructure is being put into place at the remote desert facility.
In the meantime, the UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL sounding rocket is being readied for its suborbital mission from the southeast section of the New Mexico spaceport, which is designated for vertically launched rockets.
“A major milestone has been reached in the spaceport’s construction,” said Jerry Larson, president of Unionville, Conn. -based UP Aerospace. The center section of the launch pad has been poured, which will anchor a multi -ton rocket launcher. The remainder of the launch pad will be poured by the end of March , Larson said.
A hydraulically-controlled rocket launch rail, weighing more than 7,000 kilograms and standing 17 meters tall, has been transported to New Mexico. “Once in place, it will be visible for miles around,” Larson said.
The on-site launch facilities under design or construction includes a Launch Control Center building, the Payload Assembly and Integration building, the mobile Vehicle Assembly building — which rolls on top of the concrete launch pad — and a high-tech Doppler “SODAR” (Sonic Detection and Ranging) Weather Station.
The New Mexico spaceport site is approximately 70 square kilometers of open, generally level range land 72 kilometers north of Las Cruces and 48 kilometers east of Truth or Consequences. This location was favored for its low population density, uncongested airspace and high elevation.
New Mexico Economic Development Department Secretary Rick Homans, also chairman of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, said last month the UP Aerospace launch from the spaceport property was targeted for mid-May.
When the SpaceLoft XL climbs into the sky, it will be packed with a set of creative payloads, said Eric Knight, chief executive officer for UP Aerospace.
New Mexico State University is testing a vehicle attitude sensor that will be used in the design of a “nanosat” satellite, Knight said. Students at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium have developed a payload to measure and record the microwave radiation levels and cosmic rays during the suborbital flight.
And students at Brown University in Rhode Island, in conjunction with engineers at AeroAstro Inc., have developed a research package that includes a prototype star tracker and data logger. Also on board the rocket is a Central Connecticut State University research package that includes a variety of thermocouples to analyze and record the characteristics of the space environment.
Then there’s the University of Hartford testing of a Vapor Phase Catalytic Ammonia Removal (VPCAR) system. That technology represents the next generation in water recovery for human spaceflight missions, Knight said .
In addition, more than 40 experiments from high school students from across America are to be flown.
To open the door to space access for students at this level, Knight said UP Aerospace has partnered with the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology and the National Aerospace Leadership Initiative . These organizations have established LaunchQuest, a program that lets youngsters conduct their own space flight research.
On the commercial side, a number of firms from the United States and Europe are participating in the flight. But due to confidentially agreements, Knight said he could not offer too much detail on those payloads.
The SpaceLoft XL is a single-stage, solid-propellant rocket.
The mission includes support from White Sands Missile Range, located just east of the spaceport. The SpaceLoft XL rocket includes a transponder that will be tracked by the radars at White Sands providing the highest quality data possible for use in obtaining a spaceport license from the Federal Aviation Administration, Larson explained.
As the rocket arcs over and begins its return from space, it will separate into two sections: an upper nosecone/payload section and a lower rocket-booster section.
Both rocket components are to be recovered by parachutes approximately 53 kilometers away from the launch pad, touching down on the White Sands Missile Range. The entire flight from launch to landing will take about 15 minutes.
The goal is for launch site buildings to be in place by mid-April, Larson said.