State Fight: New Mexico’s growing reputation as a space state

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Federal space funding flows to New Mexico. The state is home to the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, the U.S. Space Systems Command Innovation and Prototyping Directorate, the U.S. Space Force Rapid Capabilities Office and the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range. Additional space-related research is conducted at the Energy Department’s Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories.

SpinLaunch’s suborbital accelerator at Spaceport America. Credit: SpinLaunch

Still, New Mexico was not often in the conversation about key space states until Virgin Galactic named Spaceport America its flight operations center in 2009. The nonprofit NewSpace New Mexico was established in 2018 to encourage the growing commercial space ecosystem.

“New Mexico has a lot of research and development, but it needs to be put into play to help companies move from concept to products to sales to money,” said Casey DeRaad, NewSpace New Mexico founder and CEO.

That’s the idea behind Unite and Ignite Space, a small satellite innovation hub in Albuquerque established through a partnership agreement between NewSpace New Mexico and AFRL. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, helped obtain a total of $11 million for the facility in the 2020 and 2021 National Defense Authorization Acts.

New Mexico’s 140 space-related companies include BlueHalo, Redwire, SolAero and SpinLaunch.

SpinLaunch leases more than 10 acres at Spaceport America, where the company built a 33-meter suborbital accelerator and conducted its first successful suborbital launch in October.

“The Spaceport is strategically located adjacent to historic White Sands Missile Range, allowing for restricted airspace,” Raphael Feldman, SpinLaunch program management director, said by email. SpinLaunch also appreciates New Mexico’s engineering talent, government support and “plethora of assets to test new launch systems,” he added.

The State of New Mexico offered SpinLaunch $4 million in economic development grants, which the company receives as it meets expansion milestones. NewSpace New Mexico works with local companies and organizations across the country seeking collaboration, testing facilities and introductions to potential customers.

Through quarterly industry forums, NewSpace New Mexico has identified obstacles companies face in attracting skilled workers, gaining access to specialized equipment and finding secure facilities for work on classified space programs.

To begin addressing those issues, Unite and Ignite Space will include offices, laboratories, manufacturing facilities, testing equipment and secure spaces for national security programs.

“We know that setting up these resources will probably end up attracting industry to New Mexico, but the goal is to accelerate the pace of innovation for the space industry and for the nation,” DeRaad said.

This article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

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