Albuquerque City Council approves lease for Orion Center satellite facility

By Shane Farias / NM News Port

New Mexico is set to become the home of a massive satellite facility. The Orion Center is planned to be a four-million-square-foot development built by Theia Group Inc. and its subsidiary company, Group Orion. It will be located on 114 acres of city land adjacent to the Albuquerque International Airport.

Albuquerque City Council approved the lease for the land on April 19. Orion Group Vice President James Reid Gorman told Business First that the center is “one of the largest construction projects in the United States.” Originally calling for 1,000 jobs when the plant opens, Orion Center representatives have said that this number could eventually be increased to some 2,500 jobs. 

According to the mayor’s office after being approved by the city council, the lease will need to be signed by the Theia Group and Albuquerque’s Aviation Department before being sent to Mayor Tim Keller. 

The Orion satellite production campus will begin appearing here near the intersection of Gibson and Girard on city airport land. (Photo by Shane Farias / NM News Port)

“The Orion development has the potential to be one of the most significant investments in our community in recent years,” Albuquerque Sunport spokeswoman Stephanie Kitts said. “We’re excited about the partnership and the effects the project will have on the Albuquerque economy.”

The lease’s initial term is 30 years, with an option to extend to up to 50 years. It is expected to begin June 1 with a $1 million payment that will cover the rent until 2023. Another payment of the same amount would occur in June of next year, covering rent until 2025, after which monthly payments will add up to $1.24 million annually.

NM is Poised to Become A National Leader in Space Exploration Following the Approval of a 30-50-Year Lease.

Last summer, Theia Group signed a multiyear lease for two facilities previously used by defense contractor Raytheon Co. Theia Group and Group Orion plan to use the spaces for manufacturing, research and development while the ultimate project is in the works. 

“Raytheon [who], did mostly directed energy work, left Albuquerque probably about a year ago, [and] they took that work to Arizona,” said Casey DeRaad, CEO of New Space New Mexico, a space industry booster organization. “In the meantime, they had [two] buildings vacant over at the Sandia Science & Tech Park so Theia leased those Raytheon buildings to hold them over until this can be built out. That’s a really good sign that they’re coming.”

Albuquerque is an ideal location for operations. We’re excited about the partnership and the effects the project will have on its Economy.”

–Stephanie Kitts

During the city council meeting, Gorman said that “[the] number one focus right now is ramping up these facilities because [they] are going to be driving a lot of the talent that migrates to the Orion Center.” Gorman also said that they are working closely with the Phoenix-based construction management company, Hensel Phelps and that the company is very much in tune with the market and has been doing outreach to several qualified local subcontractors. The lease will give TGI and Group Orion a chance to develop a presence in Albuquerque while it awaits the construction of the Orion Center.

The construction will go through phases, and the first phase, which is expected to be completed by late 2023, will consume about 4.1 million square feet when finished. Satellite launches are also expected to begin around the same time.

According to SolAero Technologies, 50% of power for all space systems currently comes from Albuquerque, making the Orion development one that will likely place New Mexico as one of the leaders in space exploration in North America. According to the corporate real estate enterprise Colliers International, throughout the next decade, the Orion project’s cost is estimated to be between $8 and $10 billion. Mayor Tim Keller expects the development to create a significant amount of Albuquerque jobs while serving as a much-needed economic booster for New Mexico.

“New Mexico is very well positioned to be the leader for the nation,” DeRaad said. “I think that we’re just going to keep growing and there are many many companies that want to come here and be near this center of excellence.”

The development is an enormous project for the city of Albuquerque that is expected to benefit the entire state economy and create an abundance of employment opportunities for the next several years. According to city councilman Pat Davis, the addition of the Orion Center will have created close to 4,000 jobs throughout the five-mile stretch between Mesa Del Sol and the Albuquerque Sunport. 

The City of Albuquerque has signed a long-term lease with the Theia Group to build a sprawling satellite manufacturing center at its Aviation Center property north of the Albuquerque SunPort, the city’s international airport. (Photo by Shane Farias / NM News Port)

“That’s as many direct employed jobs as there are in New Mexico’s entire oil and gas sector,” Davis said. “This is an investment in what is the future of New Mexico’s economy.” 

According to Gorman, Group Orion has also reached out to higher education in the state as University of New Mexico’s Dean of Engineering and Computing, Christos Christodoulou, visited with Group Orion last month for an extensive introduction into future plans for the center. Central New Mexico Community College President Tracy Hartzler also met with Group Orion on May 4 to discuss curriculum development opportunities for CNM and in collaboration with Theia Group.

“Group Orion, and its parent company, Theia Group, strategically chose Albuquerque as their home,” Kitts said. “Albuquerque is an ideal location for its operations with our highly skilled workforce and proximity to national labs and research facilities.”

Shane Farias is a reporter for New Mexico News Port and can be reached at nmnewsport@gmail.com