Image: New Mexico spaceport
Virgin Galactic / Foster + Partners
An artist's conception shows a fleet of suborbital spaceships at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
updated 4/22/2008 11:46:41 PM ET 2008-04-23T03:46:41

Sierra County voters have approved a tax aimed at financing New Mexico's $200 million spaceport, according to unofficial results.

The tax passed Tuesday by 980 votes among 3,112 cast, the Sierra County clerk's office said.

Spaceport director Steve Landeene called the win "huge" and thanked the county for embracing the tax that will add a 25-cent charge to a $100 purchase.

"You never know with votes, and any time you're dealing with a tax vote, it's extremely nerve-wracking," he said. "...It certainly looks like we did enough and got the word out."

Sierra County's vote was critical because a tax district to fund construction at Spaceport America needed approval by at least two counties.

In neighboring Dona Ana County, the tax passed last spring by just 270 votes among more than 17,000 cast.

In recent weeks, Landeene and other officials had worked to educate voters on what they see as the project's merits. Opponents, on the other hand, questioned why county residents should fund the project.

Former county commissioner Leo Rivera voted against the tax Tuesday but nonetheless congratulated the supporters.

"They worked hard for it," he said. "They had the money behind them. I don't know how much they spent. I guess they put their message through, though. What can I say?"

Supporters compare the facility to an airport. Built, operated and maintained by government entities, they maintain it generates income for the community as companies lease building space and pay user fees.

Much of the publicity surrounding the desert site for the spaceport, located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of Truth or Consequences, has centered on $200,000 rocket rides for space tourists.

Virgin Galactic is teaming with aerospace designer Burt Rutan to build a craft that will take passengers 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth — the mark where space begins. Test flights could begin this year.

Virgin Galactic offered to fly one resident per year from the area on a free suborbital flight if the vote passed.

Landeene emphasized that the spaceport will service many other kinds of missions.

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