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N.M. Spaceport Set to Be ’8th Man-Made Wonder’

Fri July 09, 2010 - West Edition
Mary Reed

It was only fitting that when ground was broken for Spaceport America, the world’s first commercial spaceport under construction about 45 mi. north of Las Cruces, N.M., a small but symbolic quantity of Mother Earth was sent aloft in an amateur rocket to an altitude of a couple of thousand feet.

Groundbreaking for the facility, owned by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA), was a colorful affair, kicked off by a parade of people dressed as settlers and conquistadores. After several speeches, dignitaries including New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson placed scoops of earth turned up by a grader into a container carried in the nose cone of the rocket, which the governor then launched.

A great deal of excitement has been generated by the spaceport, which will significantly boost the local economy. A New Mexico State University study predicts that five years after the facility opens it will employ more than 2,000 on spaceport and spaceport related jobs, while a second study by the Futron Corporation estimates that by 2020 the number of employees in such jobs will be more than 4,000. In addition, the spaceport is expected to increase area employment opportunities in such disciplines as technology and science, as well as related fields, for example renewable energy research.

In this regard, the facility has been designed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification standards, awarded to construction projects meeting “green” performance goals in such areas as conservation of water and energy and reduced waste material. To this end, the spaceport incorporates such features as so-called earth tubes (a type of cooling device), solar panels to generate electricity, and natural ventilation.

Founded in 1994, CMC Construction, based in Truth or Consequences, has carried out many erosion control, earthwork, and site work projects for private developers and numerous federal, state, county, and municipal agencies throughout its home state, Arizona, and Texas as well as foreign countries.

“We are building the Internal Roads Project SP-008 as a general contractor and are backfilling the high power electric and the communication lines as a subcontractor to McDade-Woodcock, Inc., electrical contractors out of Albuquerque. Their general superintendent is Andrew Pedroncelli, who has over 20 years’ heavy electrical experience,” Bill Loomis, CMC construction manager, said in March.

“On the road project, we are performing GPS and Total Station Trimble Stakeless earthwork headed up by CMC’s Hank George [aka AZ Grademaker], grading for one major structure — a six barrel concrete box culvert, each barrel being 10 feet x 14 feet x 40 feet through length. There are 13 single and battery locations of corrugated metal pipe culverts. Guardrail, minor curb, ramps, curb and gutter, and sidewalk are also included. Base course and HMAC paving will be major items on the project and will be finished off with signage and striping.”

In addition, CMC has offered LEEDS substitution on soil stabilization to help achieve a higher LEEDS certification.

“La Calerita Construction LLC, based in Las Cruces, N.M., and owned by Toby Villalobos, is the subcontractor on the concrete box culvert. He is well on the way to finishing the structure in approximately 90 days as a milestone, not counting lost weather days,” said Loomis. “The terminal and hangar facility is starting up and Summit Construction Inc., of Albuquerque and Phoenix has the contract. The fire facility is going to be started shortly by Bateman-Hall Inc., of Idaho Falls, Idaho, and while no projects have been completed, most of the ongoing horizontal ones are more than 40 percent complete.”

CMC has 43 employees on site. Work began in December 2009 and is on schedule for a completion date of December 2010, despite some difficulties relating to archaeological sites, existing power poles, old ranch water lines, right of way issues, and unusually wet and snowy winter weather.

CMC’s equipment working on site so far includes three “blades” (two Caterpillar 140G and a John Deere 772 graders), two bulldozers (a Caterpillar D8N and Komatsu D65E) two loaders (Caterpillar 928 and John Deere 644) and two trackhoes (Caterpillar 330B and 315C).

In addition, the company is fielding eight dump trucks (tandems, bellies, and trailers) and water trucks and trailers fed from a Kline water tower and pond, as well as a heavy duty disc harrow, fitted with four rows of 40 in. (101.6 cm) discs, pulled by a monster-tired John Deere turbo diesel tractor, and two sheepsfoot and two vibratory rollers (Caterpillar and Bomag). A Case 580 grading tractor with Gannon grading box was used for fine grading in tight areas, such as next to buildings or structures or in areas where there is no room to turn around. Support equipment and trucks, and various other small hand and walk-behind pieces also are being utilized. The company’s contract has a value of about $2.5 million, while total let to contract so far for the spaceport is more than $90 million.

Spaceport America’s 10,000 ft. (3,048 m) long, 200 ft. (70 m) wide concrete runway is now well on the way to completion, two months ahead of schedule, with completion expected in June.

David Montoya Construction Inc., based in Alameda, N.M., is the contractor and also will construct the apron. Established in 1985, the company provides a wide range of experience in all areas of highway and heavy construction as well as concrete work.

Leica Geosystems supplied GPS and robotic total station machine control for Montoya’s equipment, which included GPS-equipped dozers and motorgraders and a GOMACO 9500 Series fine-grade trimmer equipped with Leica PaveSmart 3D system. The latter gets subgrade to ± 1/100th ft. and can deliver significant improvements in concrete yields for the paving phase compared with traditional techniques.

Currently Montoya is running its Guntert Zimmerman S850 slipform paver. To cover the width of the runway it makes six passes, each 33.3 ft. (10.1 m) wide. The paver is controlled by Leica’s PaveSmart 3D (LMGS-S) system, which regulates steer, grade, draft and crossfall in real-time.

With vertical launch facilities already existing, the runway will handle horizontal launches as well as flights in training and other space-related vehicles.

Space tourists will be carried aloft by Virgin Galactic, sister company of British airline Virgin Atlantic and main tenant for the spaceport. Interest in the venture is such that Virgin Galactic has reportedly already taken in reservation deposits amounting to an estimated $45 million. Currently more than 300 people have indicated interest in taking a space flight with the company. Gerald Martin Construction Management of Albuquerque, N.M., is the owner’s representative for the project, bringing to the project its expertise in all areas of construction and with its partner, HDR Aviation, experience in aviation facilities including work with NASA.

Contractors currently at work on the job include FNF New Mexico LLC, also located in Albuquerque. The company is working on the initial site enabling and security as well as the fuel storage facility. They also are providing aggregates to some of the contractors on site.

Water facilities are being built by Smithco Construction Inc., Caballo, N.M., a family-owned business established in 1969 and specializing in water-related jobs. Its clients have included a number of New Mexico municipalities as well as federal and state governments.

AUI, Inc., based in Albuquerque, N.M., is handling the wastewater part of the project. Founded in 1981, the contractor specializes in heavy civil work of various kinds, including storm drains, water and sewer pipelines, treatment plants, and pump stations.

The rocket plane Virgin Galactic will use for space tourism took its first flight from Mojave, Calif., on March 22, 2010, piggy-backed on a twin fuselaged plane and reaching an altitude of 50,000 ft. Virgin Galactic has announced that on the next test flight SpaceShipTwo will be released and will glide down and land at the same California facility.

CMC Construction’s Bill Loomis summed up the spaceport project by observing “They have finally figured out where the best place to launch is for the future. The largest controlled airspace and landmass on the planet from zero to 250 miles high, a mile-high to start — meaning huge fuel savings and increased payload capacity, minimal encroachment possibility, low population density, no salt sea blast, and no hurricanes all make it the ideal location. It is going to be the eighth Man Made Wonder of the World.” CEG

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