[Via Satellite 05-29-2015] X2nSat has announced future plans to build a satellite gateway at Spaceport America, which may signal the beginning of a revival for the embattled New Mexico facility. The companies have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the satellite communications provider to enter into a the long-term lease of land at the facility and access infrastructure, including the spaceport’s fiber network, as the first Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) solutions provider within the new satellite gateway ground station development plan.
While the spaceport was hailed as a success and hub for space tourism during its early stages — boasting leasing contracts from the likes of Virgin Galactic and SpaceX soon after its opening in 2011 — it has recently come under fire as commercial spaceflight hit delays, stalling profits and prompting legislation to sell the facility. Although Spaceport America CEO Christine Anderson told Via Satellite that the legislation has “died” since its introduction earlier this year, the agreement with the Calif.-based satellite communications provider could be the start of a diversification of clientele at the base that would offer the facility new business and new life.
“[That legislation] was proposed by one state senator who was impatient about the pace of the commercial space industry,” said Anderson. “The state of New Mexico has invested a lot of money in the spaceport and is very supportive of it.”
Anderson points to the company’s new business plan, which highlights diversifying its business based on assets such as its dry, stable climate; constant security; abundance of land for lease or sublease; reasonable rates; and “a very conducive latitude for satellite ground station activity,” he said. Satellite gateways were one such element laid out in the business plan, with X2nSat the first to sign on.
“We believe we have an ideal location to host satellite ground stations. We have land set aside for other providers and expect this to be a growing area of our business,” said Anderson.
The spaceport is not currently launching satellites, according to Anderson, who notes that the facility has had 23 vertical launches to date, which have been test flights or suborbital payload flights. The next launch is scheduled for August.
While the actual contract with X2nSat will not be negotiated until mid-summer, the communications company has plans to invest millions of dollars in equipment and facilities to expand their operations and open the company’s third satellite gateway, which is set to break ground in 2016. According to X2nSat CEO Garrett Hill, the location and conditions available at the New Mexico facility present an ideal environment as X2nSat look to expand.
“If nothing else than coincidence, the location that they picked and the characteristics of their location are very good for what we want to do,” explained Hill. “What interests us most about their facility there is that part of our 10-year plan dictates that we’re going to be spending millions of dollars on infrastructure to support our services. We see the assets that they’ve built out there for the space launch industry as something that we can piggyback off of in terms of that investment and maximize the return for our shareholders.”
Anything less than a 10-year lease at the facility would not be of interest to the company, Hill noted, signaling long-term interest alongside current lessee’s such SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and smaller startups such as Armadillo Aerospace. X2nSat will connect to Spaceport America’s terrestrial fiber network in order to enable and ensure the critical communications, particularly during disaster recovery, one of the company’s major projects.
“The fiber network is really important to us. They have a good fiber network that was put in; it’s state-of-the-art, has redundancies in it and the amount of capacity that it has is going to suit us nicely. It was a critical component. If they had not had it, it probably would have been a deal-killer for us to have ever considered that location,” said Hill, noting that the spaceport happens to fall along a major fiber route that goes all through the country. “Tapping into that is what gives, in our specific industry, a lot of the capabilities.”
“What’s important is that we can interconnect with the rest of the national network at high speeds so those emergency communications can continue. Being at a place like the spaceport, which has very, very few threats in terms of natural disasters or floods, fires, and many of the other things that we worry about makes it a very safe location,” Hill added.
The spaceport offers the business-to-business satellite communications company an ideal environment as it looks to modernize its current satellite gateway offerings in line with transforming satellite architecture.
“In our area, VSAT, the spacecraft designs were fundamentally unchanged from the late 70’s up to about the 2010 timeframe. There was new technology and they were more powerful and such, but really the architectures hadn’t changed substantially since the first generation,” said Hill. “Now, what’s being dreamed up by people like Elon Musk and SpaceX and the new fleets and the architectures that are coming into place, what happens is the ground segment, or the satellite gateways, need to respond to that. And what we have mostly in America, and in the world, are satellite gateways that were designed for the original generation of spacecraft. To take advantage of the new technologies and the proposed fleets, there has to be changes to those.”
As X2nSat looks to reform, the spaceport also offers them a space free of much of the bureaucracy at larger, federally controlled facilities to conduct research and development of new technologies. For Hill, the opportunity to expand and develop is a huge plus, and an ideal environment for emerging tech.
“When you have an entity like the state of New Mexico it’s much more nimble than the federal government, much more reasonable, and you can actually have a dialogue with them without having to hire an army of lobbyists,” said Hill. “I think that’s powerful and would bring in a lot of people, whether it be civilian markets for things such as drone development — or whether it is an excellent place for that — whether it be space flight or aerodynamic type of testing, space technology, Earth sciences in terms of observation and sensor development, etc.”
And, while Hill doesn’t see the questions regarding New Mexico’s sale of the facility as credible, he also doesn’t believe that a sale would have much impact on the tenants in the long term.
“I don’t think from a development standpoint, from our point of view as a tenant, or other tenants — Virgin, or anybody — as long as it’s done right it doesn’t matter,” said Hill. “The fact that New Mexico had the foresight to invest in it at a time when people were investing, I think that’s the true gift they gave to their state.”
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