By Todd G. Dickson
Las Cruces Bulletin
With Orbital Sciences joining SpaceX in providing unmanned space cargo service to the orbiting International Space Station (ISS), the upcoming International Symposium on Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) is bringing in top officials of both ISS and SpaceX.
That’s because SpaceX will be testing its single- stage rocket Grasshopper from Spaceport America, which is providing a suborbital “platform for innovation” for the new commercial space entrepreneurs, said ISPCS organizer Pay Hynes at the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance space update luncheon Tuesday, Oct. 1.
Space travel is the next stage of human travel, but so far very few people have traveled to space, said Hynes, who is the director of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium at New Mexico State University. That will soon change as suborbital vehicles – such as the one being developed by Virgin Galactic for flights out of Spaceport America – are getting about a year away from taking passengers to suborbital space on frequent flights, she said.
Because of Spaceport America’s role in being that first suborbital bridge to broader space flights, ISPCS will be attended by 250 of the leaders in both the governmental and private aerospace industry, Hynes said.
This year’s symposium, with the theme Risk and Reward, will be held Tuesday, Oct. 15 through Friday, Oct. 17, at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum. The new private space industry is beginning to find its potential, which is why ISPCS draws attendees from around the world, Hynes said.
“It really an international business,” she said. “It is a global business because of that environment you are working in – space.”
Likening commercial space travel to scaling Mount Everest, Hynes said Spaceport America is the equivalent of a base camp for “facilitating the climbers to get to the summit.” Using that metaphor, the ISPCS speakers could be seen as the industry’s “guides and sherpas,” she said.
With the expertise at NASA White Sands Test Facility (WSTF), Las Cruces really should be “base camp one,” not Truth or Consequences, Hynes said, but the lack of southern road to Spaceport America – about 45 miles north of Las Cruces – is hampering that.
“It’s intolerable that we can’t get there from Las Cruces,” she said. “T or C is not base camp one.”
WSTF has 653 employees and a $39 million payroll with a primary mission of making rocket environments safe for human contact, Hynes said. That is a resource of expertise that is valuable to those in the private space industry trying to make space more accessible to more people, she said.
Hynes said one of ISPCS’ main speakers will be Bill Gerstenmaier who oversees NASA’s programs on the space station and its $8 billion budget. In the same room will be Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, which has a $1.5 billion contract for servicing the space station with its commercially evolved vehicle, she said.
ISS, a $100 billion investment, is set to de-orbit in seven years, unless demand is generated to keep it in orbit, Hynes said. That’s why the suborbital first step to regular space flight is so important, she said.
That’s why Hynes said she has been putting on annual suborbital space flights out of Spaceport America using the UP Aerospace sounding rocket with not only loaded with student experiments, but also commercial payloads. The next scheduled launch is Wednesday, Oct. 9, but the federal government shutdown could delay it because of the coordination with White Sands Missile Range for the launches and payload recovery.
Regardless, these launches are part of an effort to maintain interest in access to space until human space travel is more ready, she said.
“These folks can’t sit aroundwaiting for demand to come along,” Hynes said. “It’s up to us to create the demand.”
ISPCS is helping the local economy to start seeing the benefit of Spaceport America, Hynes said. It is estimated that the two days of speakers – flanked by a community partnership luncheon and a trip to Spaceport America by attendees – has brought in $3 million to the local economy.
ISPCS is the largest single event booking for Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces and generates $28,000 just in room nights, she said.
The symposium costs $799, but Hynes said she provides the attendees a place to gather where all their needs are met so they can spend time networking and making deals.
“We are building the community for commercial space transportation,” Hynes said. “These are high-level, very busy people … Everybody’s all together for two days.”
Besides the 250 attendees, there are 50 exhibitors. Food and gifts provided to attendees come from local businesses, she said.
“I’m doing this for our community to thrive from this opportunity being handed to us on a platter,”Hynes said.
For local people to have a better understanding the spaceport’s potential, the first afternoon Tuesday, Oct. 15, is Community Partnership Luncheon for $50, which also includes a tour of Spaceport America. The luncheon speaker is Michael Blum who holds tickets not only to fly on Virgin Galactic’s spaceliner,but also XCOR’s Lynx still in design development. Blum is more than just a passenger, Hynes said. He is looking for investment opportunities around Spaceport America, she said, and he could help people in the area learn how its potential as seen from the outside.
For more information, visit www. ispcs.com.
Pat Hynes, director of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, visits with Randy McMillan at the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance space update luncheon, during which she talked about the International Symposium on Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, taking place Tuesday, Oct. 15, through Friday, Oct. 18.
Las Cruces Bulletin photo by Todd Dickson