New Mexico spaceport authority director resigns

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The head of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority is resigning, saying she still believes in the commercial space industry and that Spaceport America has a role to play.

Christine Anderson announced her resignation in a memo Tuesday to the authority’s board and Gov. Susana Martinez. She said it was a difficult decision but she wants to pursue “other life adventures.”

Anderson took over as executive director five years ago as the spaceport was just getting off the ground.

She has lauded successes in building a multimillion-dollar launch site and bringing new infrastructure to a remote stretch of desert in southern New Mexico, but delays by anchor tenant Virgin Galactic left the spaceport scrambling for revenue in recent years and the lack of activity helped to fueled lawmakers’ skepticism of the venture.

Anderson has repeatedly countered the criticisms of whether flights would ever get off the ground.

“Spaceport America is finally reaching its prime and the momentum must continue,” she wrote, pointing to more than two dozen vertical launches, agreements with new tenants and a more diverse business plan. “It’s important to ensure all the progress we have made will continue and thrive under new leadership.”

Anderson’s last day will be Aug. 19. She offered to help the board and the governor’s office find a qualified candidate to take the helm of the agency.

Taxpayers footed the bill to build the state-of-the-art hangar and runway as part of a plan devised by British billionaire Richard Branson and former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat. The spaceport was billed as the world’s first purpose-built facility where paying customers would be able to board high-tech vehicles destined for the edge of the earth and where aerospace companies could establish a home base for launching satellites and other operations.

While there’s no firm date for Virgin Galactic to begin commercial flights, Anderson said earlier this year that the company could be launching as soon as the 2018 fiscal year.

Virgin Galactic’s top brass was in New Mexico in April for a series of ground and air exercises in preparation for future flights. Chief executive George Whitesides said at the time that his team was making progress with testing of its new spaceship.

After years of development, Virgin Galactic appeared to be nearing the goal of turning ordinary civilians into astronauts when the first SpaceShipTwo broke apart on Oct. 31, 2014, during its fourth rocket-powered flight over the Mojave Desert, killing the pilot.

Anderson has maintained that commercial space flight would not be without its challenges but that it holds promise for the state despite the setback.

Before leading the New Mexico spaceport agency, Anderson served for three decades as a civilian in the U.S. Air Force. She was the founding director of the Space Vehicles Directorate at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base and was the director of a military satellite communications program at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles.