States

The future of Spaceport America may be in the hands of the New Mexico Legislature

On Tuesday, the New Mexico Legislature convened for its 2013 session, and one of the key issues it will be dealing with, albeit indirectly, is the future of Spaceport America, the commercial spaceport in the southern part of the state. The $209-million facility’s major elements are nearly complete and its anchor tenant, suborbital spaceflight company Virgin Galactic, will start paying rent on them this month. Whether they’ll stick around, though, may depend on whether the legislature passes a key bill.

At issue is the state’s existing informed consent regime for commercial human spaceflight. Current law protects a “space flight entity” from liability for injury to or the death of a spaceflight participant “resulting from the inherent risks of space flight activities.” (That indemnification is not valid in cases of “gross negligence” or intentional injury.) That language is similar to laws in several other states that also protect spaceflight operators from lawsuits in the event of an accident.

The problem in New Mexico is that the current law defines a “space flight entity” is the operator of the vehicle itself (specifically, the entity that holds the FAA launch licence), meaning that the liability protections do not cover other people involved in the manufacture of the vehicle. That leaves suppliers and others open to suits in the event of an accident. That has made it more difficult for the state to encourage other companies to set up operations at Spaceport America, and, in turn, making Virgin Galactic feel like they have to shoulder the burden of the spaceport’s operations alone.

The state attempted to amend the law last year, expanding the liability protection to include suppliers, but the law failed to pass after opposition from trial lawyers, who believe it unfairly restricts the ability of people to sue in the event of an accident. The legislature is making another attempt this year, with bills introduced in the state House and Senate to revise current law. The bills would expand the definition of “space flight entity” to include manufacturers and suppliers of components, vehicles and other services, as well as the people who work for or own those companies. As was the case last year, the legislation has the support of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

At the same time, Virgin Galactic officials have suggested that the company would reconsider its plans to operate from Spaceport America should the liability protection not be expanded. “The state has said it doesn’t want to keep putting money into the spaceport over time, so that sort of leaves us, which isn’t really the vision that we signed up for,” Virgin Galactic president and CEO George Whitesides told Albuquerque TV station KRQE on Thursday. Virgin has stopped short of a direct ultimatum regarding its future at the spaceport, but has made it clear it wants the bill to pass so that the state can lure other companies to the facility and thus not put the full burden of spaceport operations on it.

Still, some people in New Mexico do feel like they’re faced with the choice of passing the bill or losing Virgin Galactic. “Granted if (they’re) holding us hostage, that’s unfortunate,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas told KRQE, “but sometimes you have to pay the ransom.”

42 comments to The future of Spaceport America may be in the hands of the New Mexico Legislature

  • vulture4

    I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but if Branson gets tired of New Mexico we have a really long runway here in Florida that he is more than welcome to use.

    • DCSCA

      I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but if Branson gets tired of New Mexico we have a really long runway here in Florida that he is more than welcome to use.” crowed Vulture.

      LOL Make him an offer he can’t refuse. Per Rutan’s presentation in Florida a few weeks back, aired on CSPAN, Sir Richard supposedly has five or six aites in mind around the world to cultivate the sub-orbital ride biz before pressing on to orbital tourist flights.

  • Fred Willett

    It’s seems to be clear that Virgin is having some trouble getting their engine right. They still haven’t flown with the engine and they’re expected to start paying rent to Spaceport America this month while not yet generating any revenue.
    It seems to me that the logical thing to do would be for Virgin to find an excuse to move, and failure to pass the indemnity would do it.
    Another state would pay to get them and not charge them rent till they actually start flying.
    Spaceport America has the best faculities but can Virgin afford to stay there while their schedule continues to slip?

  • Well, the Low Earth Orbit President gets re-inaugurated. Obamaspace aims for mediocrity: it’s a blueprint for at least another fifteen years in LEO. The only wind carrying Commercial Crew is the ISS. Now that the gravy train has been secured, till 2020 or 2025 or whatever, America is pre-destined to follow entrepreneur schemes of supposed inland spaceports. Kids in TV-land: Why didn’t any of this work out before? Huh? Remember all those plans for novel-new airplane-looking space-ships, that were to have “replaced” the Shuttle, back in the 90′s? Schemes that got green-lighted to the test vehicle stage. Things like the Venture Star, & the SSTO craft (single-stage-to-orbit). None of it ever actually came to fruition. The commercial people just couldn’t deliver. Their excuse seems to be, that the Space Shuttle was running during that time.That the government already had a means of ferrying men & equipment up & down. That they weren’t being depended upon, for those launch services. But it’s a real flimsy one. A lame excuse. If those space entrepreneurs had had anything worth producing, they’d have already done it, all those years ago. Sure, the commercial operators might have a small adeptness for reaching LEO, but again, it’s going to take government power to give them a “goal” to reach there!

    • Malmesbury

      The failure of the 90s round of commercial start ups was due to the collapse of the LEO constellation industry.

      Venture Star was a perfect example of how the old style of management destroys projects. They took the DC-Y concept – DC-X, but bigger and flight weight hardware, test if SSTO is possible – and turned it into a bizarre collection of all the exotic technologies that were in development. DC-Y had a path out if SSTO didn’t quite work – a “Zeroth” stage (a small first stage, pretty much). X-33 did have that option.

    • “Sure, the commercial operators might have a small adeptness for reaching LEO, but again, it’s going to take government power to give them a “goal” to reach there!”
      That’s our fanatical Tinkerbell. Totally ignoring the economic advantages of the current commercial paradigm. A combination of government and the new commercial methods may get us there faster than either of them by them by themselves. But the old style government led way certainly won’t, as SLS aptly demonstrates. That is true whether there is a defined “goal” or not.

      The irony of Chris’ solution is that it is one guaranteed way to keep us in low Earth orbit due to inability to indefinitely paid for it.

    • Coastal Ron

      Chris Castro lamented:

      Things like the Venture Star, & the SSTO craft (single-stage-to-orbit).

      The Venture Star depended on the government X-33 program, which the government pulled the plug on. And it was the government saying there was a market. Hardly a commercial effort. The DC-X was also government funded, for a government need.

      You could point to Rotary Rocket as a pure commercial effort, as well as a number of others. But their efforts were not unusual for a completely new market, so I don’t see anything unusual about them. If anything it reinforced the changes to how those that came afterwards approached the dual problem of developing both a service a customer base – at the same time.

      Musk figured it out, and SpaceX will be used as a successful business example for decades to come. And others could follow, but not in the same market as SpaceX, since Musk is not allowing anyone to get ahead of them.

      Their excuse seems to be, that the Space Shuttle was running during that time.

      It is impossible for the private sector to compete against the government, because the government doesn’t have to make a profit. That is also one of the bad things about the SLS, since it removes competition and cost containment from the picture.

      As usual Chris, you have no regard for taxpayer money.

    • Things like the Venture Star, & the SSTO craft (single-stage-to-orbit). None of it ever actually came to fruition. The commercial people just couldn’t deliver.

      This is historically ignorant. Venture Star wasn’t commercial — it was a joint project of Marshall and Lockheed Martin (Lockmart hasn’t done anything commercial in decades), and it was doomed to failure from the beginning.

    • amightywind

      The failure of the 90′s and 2000′s was the same as the 70′s. The US failed to continuously improve the space architecture in service. The Space Shuttle should have been redesigned and improved. How depressing.

      • Coastal Ron

        amightywind moaned:

        The Space Shuttle should have been redesigned and improved.

        It’s amazing how you THINK you are a conservative, but then you talk about relying on government to do everything. Haven’t you noticed this?

        In any case, you miss the point about why the Shuttle wouldn’t have been redesigned. The initial supposition was that the government should run a transportation system to LEO, and that it would be low-cost (safety was supposed to be a given). The results showed that the Government SHOULD NOT run a transportation system to LEO, and that the costs were at least 3X higher than commercial capabilities. Of course this lesson is lost on those politicians that have SLS work in their districts, but soon that program will fold because it will go over-budget and behind schedule.

        • amightywind

          The government should not provide transportation to LEO, but they should expend $3 billion a year to provide a destination for the space entrepreneurs? You don’t think clearly, which is your normal. I’m a Jacksonian conservative.

          • Coastal Ron

            amightywind moaned:

            The government should not provide transportation to LEO, but they should expend $3 billion a year to provide a destination for the space entrepreneurs?

            Stop calling yourself a conservative, and certainly not a Reagan conservative.

            Of course the government should not provide transportation to LEO, because that is not the governments area of expertise. The government should do only what can’t be done by it’s citizens or companies, and as SpaceX has already proven, that is no longer includes transportation to LEO. U.S. aerospace has actually had that ability for a long time, so after it was clear the Shuttle program was far exceeding it’s cost goals, the U.S. should have transitioned to a commercial transportation infrastructure at that point.

            In any case, your logic would also mean that the U.S. government wants to spend $3B per year on the SLS so that Boeing and Lockheed Martin can make money. You can’t have it both ways… ;-)

            • amightywind

              The first vote I ever cast was for Ronaldus Magnus in 1980.

              The government should do only what can’t be done by it’s citizens or companies

              Building (or at least paying for) 2000 ton rockets might still be one of them.

              In any case, your logic would also mean that the U.S. government wants to spend $3B per year on the SLS so that Boeing and Lockheed Martin can make money.

              I would love to redeploy ISS budget toward SLS, the same way I would like to gut the food stamp budget to buying a new aircraft carrier (or several).

              • Coastal Ron

                amightywind gusted:

                Building (or at least paying for) 2000 ton rockets might still be one of them.

                Might? You don’t know if it is or isn’t?

                The bar should be that only if there is a need, and only if the private sector can’t do it, should the U.S. create it’s own Single-Point-Of-Failure (SPOF) transportation system.

                And for the SLS, a need has not been established, and the private sector has demonstrated that it knows more about building and operating transportation systems than the government does.

                If you think otherwise, then please do tell us what customers there are, what funded payloads they have, and for how long the demand will last?

          • DCSCA

            Relax, Windy. Newspace is a paper tiger with little to show but dragon-loads of paper press releases with promises of ‘Things To Come.’ That was a work of science fiction, too. It’s all a pitch to establish false equivalency. Because they have flown nobody. And until they earn some street cred and take the same risk NASA did w/Glenn in ’62 and succcesfully launch, orbit and return somebody safely, it’s alllllll empty talk. And time marches on. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “The failure of the 90′s and 2000′s was the same as the 70′s. The US failed to continuously improve the space architecture in service. The Space Shuttle should have been redesigned and improved.”

        Totally wrong.

        Billions and billions of taxpayer dollars were spent on Space Shuttle upgrades over its lifetime, from the the Block IIA and Block III SSMEs to the SLWT to the EAPUs to extended duration mission enhancements to the glass cockpits and on and on. None of those upgrades prevented the Challenger or Columbia, and the SLS was still an egregiously expensive, utterly unreliable, and needlessly complex way to get to and from orbit.

        A fundamentally flawed system is still a fundamentally flawed system, no matter how much money, time, and modifications you throw at it.

        • I think you meant to say STS in your post, correct? The proposed-to-be-worked-on SLS—-again, I really hate that name—-is of course “overkill” if all you want to do is build more castles in LEO. But an Ares 4 or an Ares 5, is precisely what you need if LEAVING LEO is what you intend. But the Obama administration will have nothing to do with actually getting out of LEO! All they want to speak about are vague, far-off-into-the-future, sci-fi technology-using Red Planet dreams that they have no intention of starting into motion! If the Republicans could’ve reclaimed the Oval Office, then there was a chance that a new & better direction would’ve made its way to the forefront. But with the LEO President renewed in power, it’s just going to be dull business-as-usual, clear to January of 2017. Again, I lament New Space’s virtually exclusive focus on Low Earth Orbit. When people here say stuff like “Space X was founded to get humankind to Mars”, I really gotta laugh, giggle, shuckle & snort! Goodness gracious, all you know how to do is get some cargo up to a mere space station, close by! An “egregiously expensive, needlessly complex” space station which the good old government had to provide for you, so that you all could play space cowboy. The space entrepreneurs won’t get us beyond LEO. Sure, they MIGHT provide taxi/truck service to the ISS, but there’ll be nothing more.

          • @Chris
            “Goodness gracious, all you know how to do is get some cargo up to a mere space station, close by!”
            The same type of argument could have been used about the Gemini program in the 1960s.
            “Goodness gracious, all you know how to do is launch a couple of guys into orbit and dock with another vehicle!”

            You are completely delusional.

            • @Rick Boozer;….You actually accentuate my point with that counter-mocking remark. Obama & the Flexible Path people have flaming contempt for American astronauts ever going back to the Moon, because “we’ve already been there”; but just look at all the REPEAT ACTS that NASA will be called to do, countless times & times again! If repeats of past acheivements are never done, the future then remains on hold, and true deep-space space-faring will never get past the dreamy, hazy, fantasy-on-an-animated graphics-film stage. Because then we are unwilling to recreate what was done in the past, to expand & build further upon it. A manned Lunar Return will explore the Moon with a much greater scope, & with much better capabilities, than was accomplished forty years ago. IT IS STILL WORTH DOING AS A SPACE GOAL.

              • @Chris
                “IT IS STILL WORTH DOING AS A SPACE GOAL.”
                Yes, indeed, it is. And that will never happen as long as there are people with your mindset in key positions that keep fighting the development of the building blocks needed to pursue that goal. As long as that is the case, “true deep-space space-faring will never get past the dreamy, hazy, fantasy-on-an-animated graphics-film stage.” People who think like you are the main obstacle to that future. You’re like a little child pitching a tantrum for something that he can only have after he grows up. “I want my lunar mission, and I want it now! :)

          • Dark Blue Nine

            “But an Ares 4 or an Ares 5, is precisely what you need if LEAVING LEO is what you intend.”

            Ignorant. Here’s papers and presentations on three exploration architectures that don’t require any Ares or Shuttle-derived vehicles or even any new LVs beyond those already existing or in development:

            http://www.ulalaunch.com/site/docs/publications/AffordableExplorationArchitecture2009.pdf

            http://goldenspikecompany.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/French-et-al.-Architecture-Paper-in-AIAA-Journal-of-Spacecraft-and-Rockets.pdf

            http://images.spaceref.com/news/2011/F9Prop.Depot.pdf

            “But the Obama administration will have nothing to do with actually getting out of LEO!”

            Stupid. NASA was the only federal agency represented in yesterday’s inaugural parade besides DOD, and a model of the Orion MPCV was one of the floats.

            “If the Republicans could’ve reclaimed the Oval Office, then there was a chance that a new & better direction would’ve made its way to the forefront.”

            Naive. The Romney campaign’s white paper on space made no commitments regarding human space exploration (or anything else). They only promised to hold another Augustine-like review of NASA’s direction.

            “But with the LEO President renewed in power, it’s just going to be dull business-as-usual, clear to January of 2017.”

            Idiotic. Orion MPCV is 4,000lbs. overweight years before its CDR, it’s SM is dependent on uncommitted ESA funding, Congress is funding SLS at half its required budget, and more budget reductions are ahead under sequestration or a budget agreement. If MPCV/SLS ever flies, it’s going to be long after 2017, and it will have little to do with the White House.

            “Again, I lament New Space’s virtually exclusive focus on Low Earth Orbit.”

            More ignorance.

            SpaceX is developing an HLV that is scheduled to fly next year. NASA is studying Mars landers using the SpaceX Dragon capsule.

            Multiple teams are building moon rovers in pursuit of the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

            Golden Spike has put together a commercial human lunar architecture.

            Two companies — Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries — are building NEO prospecting spacecraft and planning to mine asteroids.

            “An ‘egregiously expensive, needlessly complex’ space station which the good old government had to provide for you,”

            More stupidity. If the government’s space station is too expensive and complex for you, then you don’t want the government building human space exploration architectures.

            “@Dark Blue Nine;….by the way, I really liked your choice of words! Whether you agree, in any part, with me or not. I actually wasn’t being mocking when I invoked them.”

            Your statements are consistently and entirely ignorant, naive, stupid, and idiotic. Please don’t reply to my posts in the future. It’s a waste of my time and yours.

            • Sorry to respond to your post this one more time. I DID look up the informational engineering study links that you emplaced to your comment. I of course, have zero, zilch, nada, interest in an astronaut mission to an NEO, as well as none whatsoever in crewed missions to Mars WITHOUT a Lunar return first. This Flexible Path thing has devastated the entire quest for space, in my view! There is NO rational reason for sending crewmen to the Red Planet, without first testing the mission elements on Moon missions as a start! Plus, there is nothing worthwhile to do at an NEO, with astronauts! At least not in any decade soon. Flexible Path is a distracting, convoluted, false map that leads to nowhere! Hence, I only had enthusiasm for the proposed manned Moon journeys. But even here, there is a big asterisk I would put in, because the Golden Spike scheme relies heavily on commercial space. I have a strong distaste for this commercial/entrepreneur approach to spaceflight! I do NOT trust in their ability to deliver on such grandiose promises—-grandiose, meaning deep space/cislunar/& lunar operations. To hell with all this loitering in LEO, & ISS maintainance! Space station operations DON’T freaking impress me!

              • “To hell with all this loitering in LEO, & ISS maintainance! Space station operations DON’T freaking impress me!”
                Yep, you want to hop to the end result without going through the necessary intervening steps, even though NASA’s funding will never be increased to the amount necessary to redo Apollo.

                In short, it’s against your irrational religion, Tinkerbell. Keep throwing your tantrums, it won’t change a thing.

          • I lament New Space’s virtually exclusive focus on Low Earth Orbit.

            In your continuing profound ignorance, you lament something that doesn’t exist.

        • @Dark Blue Nine;….by the way, I really liked your choice of words! Whether you agree, in any part, with me or not. I actually wasn’t being mocking when I invoked them.

      • DCSCA

        Windy- a postscript, recommend a tomb titled “SPACE SHUTTLE – The History of the National Space Transportation System” by Dennis R. Jenkins. Excellent read and details shuttle’s concept and origins from the ‘German days’ into development, the obstacles therein into eventual flight ops. For instance, there were over sixty designs for shuttle submitted to NASA by contractors between 1970 and 1972 alone.

        • Yeah, it IS amazing just how many differing designs were submitted & proposed for the Shuttle, back in those days. The compromises on safety & probable mission accomplishment goals began and grinded on, till we eventualy got the dangerous & overbloated & limited-to-nothing-but-LEO vehicle that would dominate American spaceflight for over thirty years. The Obama White House has already made the giant mistake of downsizing our formerly grand space goals, and reducing them to just taxi/truck services to the ISS. We’ll get Commercial Crew vehicles incapable of doing anything else but LEO missions. Then America gets stranded in LEO for another fifteen or twenty years, by the time anyone takes notice.

  • vulture4

    The one decision Rutan made with the SpaceShip that I thought was suspect was the use of a hybrid engine. The work involved in refueling the hybrid is simply impractical for the rapid turnarounds needed in commercial flight. Xcor seems to be doing much better with LOX/kerosene for its (so far) single stage vehicle, and apparently Rutan and Branson have come to the same conclusion. All liquid propulsion allows turnaround without replacing large parts of the vehicle or assembling large and critical seals.

    • Coastal Ron

      IIRC, the hybrid motor just unbolts, and they bolt in a new one. The casing likely get sent back for refurb/refill.

      • vulture4

        For a hybrid the fuel segment and nozzel have to be fabricated for each flight. The overlying fairing has to be removed. The spent solid fuel tank and engine must be removes. A long, pressure-critical, high-temperature seal has to be set in place and secured with multiple critical bolts. The eight or so solid ignitor cartidges have to be fabricated, replaced, and rewired. The fairing must be replaced. All these tasks are fairly critical and similar to aircraft maintenance and overhaul tasks. Finally, the NO tank has to be refilled. Compare that to an all-liquid LOX/kerosine vehicle with liquid or electrical ignition, like the rocket racer which is in some ways similar to the XCOR Lynx. The refueling process does not involve making or breaking any joints, just opening and closing of covers and valves.

    • Neil Shipley

      Have they? Well Rutan’s out of the picture now and I wasn’t aware that work was being done on a new engine for SS2. Source please if you can (commercial restraints, etc)?

  • common sense

    “Space X was founded to get humankind to Mars”

    – SpaceX was founded to (re-)claim the worldwide satellite launch market as a company.

    – Elon as an individual wants to send people to Mars and to expend space travel to the solar system. Since SpaceX is his company, for now, he is using it to do whatever he wants to do.

    But these are two entirely different things.

    Do you really think you get people to invest in a company whose sole purpose is to send humans to Mars???

    Think! If I may.

    http://www.spacex.com/company.php

    “SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk to revolutionize space transportation, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets. Today, SpaceX is advancing the boundaries of space technology through its Falcon launch vehicles and Dragon spacecraft.”

    • amightywind

      “SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft.

      This is a bold statement from a company who lacks LH2O2 upper stage propulsion and whose main stage relies on a Rube Goldberg arrangement of modest, gas generator cycle, kerolox engines. As for the spacecraft, although they managed to bring all of the big parts back, they still botched the retrieval of fragile biological samples.

    • Totally agreed! This “to-take-humanity-to-Mars” slogan, has been overused & overstated!! Worse, it has become a hazy distraction! SPACE-X AIN’T GOING ANYWHERE NEAR MARS! Although, when they become capable of landing a small crew on the Moon, and stay on the surface for at least four full days, and conduct extensive scientific work with a roving vehicle; THEN maybe I will half-way believe them! But the way these things stand, the way these entrepreneurs brag & boast about ONLY doing the most sensational thing they could think of: it DOESN’T bode well for the future. Muskee still has to prove the viability of making a profit, “repeating” Gemini & Skylab. (Hey guys, I thought we never were supposed to “repeat” past space goals…ever?!)

      • Except for the fact that both you and ablastofhotair don’t consider the lowering of launch costs to be a significan advancement, when in reality it is the most significant advancement that will allow progress. It’s gets really funny when the two most clueless laughing stocks of this forum join in the same chorus. :)

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind moaned:

    This is a bold statement from a company who lacks LH2O2 upper stage propulsion and whose main stage relies on a Rube Goldberg arrangement of modest, gas generator cycle, kerolox engines.

    Depends on how you define “advanced”. I would define it as “most value”, but maybe you define it as “most expensive”. No wonder you like government rockets… ;-)

    they still botched the retrieval of fragile biological samples.

    Nope. NASA has stated that SpaceX disclosed to them in advance that they had found a flaw in the way they sealed the electronics for the coolers from salt water intrusion. Because of that, NASA limited the number of samples that required the coldest temperatures, but regardless, the temperatures for the samples stayed within the required limits until they were able to recover them. So no, not “botched”.

  • vulture4

    The Virgin job announcement is intresting, emphasizing a SpaceX-like “clean sheet” liquid rocket engine design rather than adopting a design from another manufacturer as they did with the hybrid engine. The fuels are not mentioned. After SpaceX and Xcor, they will be the third vehicle manufacturer making their own liquid fueled engines de novo. (Xcor is SFAIK building its own engine but not its wings and aero surfaces).

  • WILLIAM

    I WAS OFFERED A JOB WORKING FOR THE SPACE PORT WHILE WORKING
    IN TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES NEW MEXICO (2009).I HAD ONE QUESTION
    BEFORE ACCEPTING THE JOB.IN THE EVENT OF DEATH OR DESTRUCTION,
    WHO IS RESPONSIBLE? EXAMPLE:A FARM ANIMAL,BARN,TRACTOR OR GOD
    HELP,A FARMER.TRY AND GET A “LAYMAN’S” ANSWER.UNTIL THAT HAPPENS,AND THE FARMERS ARE SATISFIED,THE SPACEPORT IS A HANDED
    DOWN HEADACHE.THANK YOU BILL RICHARDSON,WHO BY THE WAY HANGS OUT WITH BRANSON IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA,WHILE SPONGING TAX DOLLARS THAT SEEM TO NOT BOTHER ANYONE. OBVIOUSLY I DIDN’T GET THE JOB,THE OFFICE CLOSED AND THE MANAGER,JOHN MULCAHEY BECAME MAYOR.THE ONLY THING (IN 30YR) THAT HAS CHANGED IN T OR C IS
    CARRIE TINGLEY HOSPITAL IS NOW A VETERANS HOME.BOTH OF WHICH
    WERE POSITIVE MOVES

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