New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation March 1 enabling the state to invest $110 million in the construction of a planned spaceport near Upham in the southern part of the state just west of the White Sands Missile Testing Center. The spaceport site is approximately 43 square kilometers of open, generally level, range land that has been picked for its low-population density, uncongested airspace and high elevation.

The state legislature agreed last month to spend $100 million over the next three years to build the spaceport. Another $10 million in previous funding is available to help the state move forward on a request for proposals for the design and construction of the spaceport.

Richardson signed two bills March 1 that further the spaceport’s development:

– House Bill 89 creates one entity, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, to oversee the spaceport.

– House Bill 473 gives local communities — those that will significantly be impacted by the creation of the spaceport — the authority to conduct a referendum to ask their voters if they want to support the spaceport and related development through a new local gross receipt tax.

Last December, Richardson and Sir Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin companies, announced a partnership to build what they described as the world’s first commercial spaceport. Branson’s Virgin Galactic will locate its world headquarters and mission control for its personal spaceflight business at the spaceport.

In late February, Richardson signed House Bill 835, which allows the State Investment Office to invest in New Mexico aerospace companies that receive more than $100 million in funding from federal agencies like NASA.

The New Mexico State Investment Council gave preliminary approval Feb. 28 for a potential investment deal with one space entrepreneurial company that is competing for a share of the $500 million in contracts NASA plans to award to one or more firms developing commercial crew and cargo launch services as part of the space agency’s Commercial Orbital Transportation System program.

Charles Wollmann, public information officer for the investment council, authorized an investment of up to $20 million in Transformational Space Corp. of Reston, V a., “contingent on the awarding of a contract by NASA, and negotiation of final terms and conditions.” The space firm also would need to move to New Mexico, Wollmann said.