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New $8 million facility at spaceport


Putting cellphone platforms into the air to provide communication coverage in rural areas and emergency situations is highly competitive. Spaceport America has a tenant that has brought that technology race to southern New Mexico and invested $8 million dollars in an operational base station.

HAPSMobile, Inc., a subsidiary of Japan’s telecommunications operator SoftBank Corp., and its partner AeroVironment, Inc. has announced the new operations center.

The companies are developing an unmanned solar-powered High-Altitude Platform Station (HAPS). The stratospheric telecommunications platform, a so-called cell-tower in the sky, is designed to provide better communications to under-served areas.

Spaceport America’s Director of Business Development Scott McLaughlin said all the construction was done through AeroVironment, Inc.

“It wasn’t a state procurement,” he said. “They had to find a test area for a UAS. They built a parking area, road, electrical infrastructure, hanger and a large test area for the UAV. They put in office space and did a lot of paving and electrical work. The infrastructure was all sourced locally.”

New Mexico-based construction firm Sandy Jones Contractor was tasked to build project. The New Mexico team turned the project around in less than four months, employing all local contractors – 65 in total.

“This was one of the largest projects ever built in Sierra County,” Jones said. “Not only did we only use New Mexico workers, all the materials were sourced locally as well. This was a huge boost to our local economy – especially when we’ve been hit so hard with the COVID-19 pandemic. What people don’t understand about the spaceport, is this is just one of the several projects currently underway there. This project alone will generate $500,000 in gross receipts tax, and that is huge in this time when our local economy is struggling.”

The work at Spaceport America will help HAPSMobile and AeroVironment obtain government certification for the unmanned aircraft system, which has a 260-foot wingspan and is designed to circle in the stratosphere for extended periods of time while carrying a telecommunications payload. It is expected to operate at an altitude of 65,000 feet above sea level.

“If successful, the testing could go on for several more years as they test the platform and get certified by the FAA, which means a long-term job presence in the area,” McLaughlin said.

The New Mexico Economic Development Department supported the expansion with $500,000 from the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) fund. LEDA was created by the Legislature to assist new and expanding businesses with financial support for land, buildings and/or infrastructure.

“The business-friendly environment in New Mexico, along with incentives like LEDA and JTIP help us bring forward thinking companies such as HAPSMobile and AeroVironment to New Mexico," Secretary Alicia Keyes said. "Add to that the strong aerospace and engineering workforce cluster and we see an important path forward to grow jobs and diversify the economy."

“This shows the steady progress that the spaceport in making,” McLaughlin said. “With the addition of SpinLaunch in May 2019, Virgin Galactic moving in later that summer, and now AeroVironment, we have over 200 private-sector employees working on site. Besides generated gross receipts taxes, construction and services revenue to local businesses, that is over 200 well-paid jobs added to the southern New Mexico economy. Our goal is to continue to increase that number and work with others to make Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces the ‘place to be’ for cutting edge aerospace operations and development. And we are always thankful to our partners, like White Sands Missile Range, for working toward that goal, which benefits us all.”