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Spaceport snares Cruces aerospace startup

A Las Cruces startup aerospace company will test its drone and rocket launch systems at Spaceport America, the company said Tuesday.

ARCA Aerospace Corp. re-established itself last year as a research and development company in Las Cruces, after years as a nonprofit based in the European Union with roots in Romania.

ARCA plans to test its AirStrato drone and Haas suborbital rocket at Spaceport America, the $218.5 million taxpayer-funded facility outside Truth or Consequences. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but a spaceport spokesman indicated the contract will charge a fee for usage.

The company plans to begin manufacturing the drone in Las Cruces next year, according to Chief Operating Officer Chris Lang.

“The ability to test our vehicle at any altitude made it attractive to move here,” Lang said.

In its quest for new customers, Spaceport America has been touting its vast protected airspace, remote location and open land.

Virgin Galactic — the aspiring spaceline that wants to fly tourists to the edge of space — is the sole tenant of the iconic Spaceport America hangar. But Spaceport has been looking to sign new business while Virgin continues to test its spaceship in California and works to recover from a test flight accident that killed a pilot last year.

Aaron Prescott, Spaceport director of business development, called ARCA “an ideal match” for Spaceport.

“This speaks to markets Spaceport America is aggressively pursuing,” he said. “They have a launch vehicle that they developed in Romania and they are bringing their company wholesale to New Mexico.”

In testing its Haas rocket, ARCA eventually aims to send five astronauts to space at a time and compete with Virgin and other emerging commercial space companies, Lang said.

The state Economic Development Department agreed to contribute $500,000 in Local Economic Development Act, or LEDA, funds when the startup moved to Las Cruces in July. The city is providing abated office, showroom and hangar space for one year — valued at $55,000, according to the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance.

ARCA’s solar-powered AirStrato unmanned vehicle can fly to 60,000 feet altitude and endure 15 hours in the air, Lang said. He said the company is targeting commercial and government customers for the drone, which can be used for surveillance, monitoring or search-and-rescue operations.

ARCA got its start in 1999 as the nonprofit Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association.