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Editorial: NM must stay at front of U.S. spaceport race

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New Mexico has a state-of-the-art, built-from-the-ground-up commercial Spaceport.

It has a cutting-edge anchor tenant in Virgin Galactic, on track to start launching passengers into suborbital space early next year.

It has a forward-thinking tenant in SpaceX, a rocket company already sending cargo to the International Space Station and poised to have high-altitude test rockets lift off from the site before the end of the year.

It has informed consent liability waivers that level the playing field for spacecraft operators and manufacturers.

It has high altitude, restricted airspace, three Air Force bases, a missile range, two national laboratories, and a long history of space flight.

In down-to-earth terms, New Mexico has impressive natural and man-made leads in this next space race.

So it is vital not to squander them. Because not only do New Mexico taxpayers have hundreds of millions at stake in Spaceport America’s success, but plenty of other states want to enter that orbit.

Spaceport Colorado is set to apply for a commercial license by the end of 2013. Florida’s Kennedy Space Center is working on renting its launch pad to commercial spacelines. Texas has projects working in Midland and Houston. And Hawaii, Georgia, Alabama and Puerto Rico are fueling up proposals of their own.

Investment in this emerging industry can easily end up scuttled, as Oklahoma discovered via $18 million in tax breaks given to a now-bankrupt business that abandoned the 13-year-old black hole that is the Burns Flat spaceport. And a T-minus-1 contract with Lockheed Martin for rocket launches saved Alaska’s Kodiak Spaceport from being scrubbed last year.

There are many reasons New Mexico has the lead in the commercial space race, with taxpayers responsible for $209 million of them. Government and business leaders must continue to work together to ensure the Land of Enchantment is first off the launch pad.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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