AP NEWS

Congressmen pitch New Mexico for new space agency

March 20, 2019

New Mexico’s congressional delegation is trying to sell the federal government on setting up a new space agency under the state’s bright stars.

The Department of Defense is establishing a Space Development Agency that would oversee the military’s space research, development and acquisition efforts. It would eventually fold into the Space Force — a new, separate branch of the armed forces.

In a letter to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, all five members of the New Mexico delegation argued for establishing the agency in the state, citing facilities such as White Sands Missile Range, Spaceport America and the national laboratories already located here.

They also pointed to the Space Rapid Capabilities Office at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.

“New Mexico is already home to many of the nation’s core space assets and has a significant space R&D community,” said the letter, signed by Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich as well as Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Xochitl Torres Small and Deb Haaland.

The state has harbored big hopes for the space industry’s future, most notably going so far as to build the spaceport outside Truth or Consequences as a base for space tourism.

While tourists have yet to take flight from the Southern New Mexico desert since the facility opened in 2011, the state has tried to market Spaceport America as a center for research and development in what is a burgeoning private space industry. And lawmakers have gone from deriding the spaceport as a disastrous pork project to pouring additional funds into its budget to finance additional construction at the site.

Meanwhile, boosters have been looking to expand the industry through the state’s defense complex.

The website Space News reported that former New Mexico congresswoman and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson pitched to Shanahan in September putting the Space Development Agency with the Space Response Capabilities Office at Kirtland Air Force Base.

The launch of a Space Force has been the butt of some jokes, but it has also raised questions about whether New Mexico can capitalize on the initiative or will simply see new competition for its existing aerospace industry.

Asked about the creation of a Space Force during a debate last year, Heinrich said that “If we keep those things here, if it’s well designed, if we can gain efficiencies and save money, then I’m going to be open to it.

“But if it’s just an excuse to create a new agency,” he said, “I won’t be supportive.”

Last week, Heinrich encouraged Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, not to “reinvent the wheel” with the agency. Instead, he told him to “fully utilize the existing R&D assets as you stand-up [the Space Development Agency] so that we’re not losing a few years of reorganization to make the whole system work better.”

“What I don’t want it to be,” Shanahan replied, “is a reorganization.”