College Students Launch Rockets in New Mexico Desert
30,000 feet (5.6 miles) won the day for the University of Michigan student team. In other events, student rockets have actually reached more than 27 miles. The 'edge' of space is at 60 miles and Minimum Low Earth Orbit is at a minimum altitude of 100 miles. Spaceport America, like the Friends of Amateur Rocketry launch site in Mojave, California, are in near-desert or desert locations for safety. All student launches lack guidance systems or self-destruct safety devices.
Like Camden County, Sierra County, New Mexico wanted to become a space mecca. Originally promised prosperity and thousands of jobs from space tourism on Virgin Galactic rocket planes, New Mexico spent $220 Million to built the spaceport. Since 2005, the State, Sierra and Dona Ana Counties pay millions per year in continuing subsidies to keep it open. Originally promising more than 3,000 jobs by 2017, Spaceport America supports fewer than 35 spaceport workers after 8 years of operations. Virgin Galactic decided to build its factories in California. There are no space related factories or research labs in the area. Since 2010, Sierra County population has dropped 6.7% and more than 28% of residents live in poverty. (US Census)
Spaceport America's income comes primarily from the Virgin Galactic lease, Up Aerospace (a company that launches sounding rockets about once a year), events like the college rocket competition, and as a backdrop for commercials.
Van tours to Spaceport America from Truth or Consequences have been discontinued due to lack of interest. The Visitor Center was never built due to lack of funds. A planned graveled or chip-sealed road between the areas largest city, Las Cruces, and the spaceport has not been started.