New Mexico’s Spending on Spaceport America Likely Not Over

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

After a decade of broken promises and delays, the next year could bring some very good news for New Mexico’s $225 million taxpayer-funded Spaceport America.

Anchor tenant Virgin Galactic’s lease payments are increasing. And Richard Branson’s prediction for the start of commercial spaceflights there in 2018 appear (for once) to be on the mark, barring major problems with SpaceShipTwo’s flight test program.

So, it would seem that at long last, New Mexico’s hard-pressed taxpayers will finally be off the hook for supporting the spaceport. Right?…I mean, right?

Not necessarily.

While Spaceport America has been struggling to pay the rent, new spaceports have been popping up all over the country and older ones have been upping their games.

For example, the Mojave Air and Space Port — where Virgin Galactic does its testing and operate its LauncherOne program — boasts three runways, modern production facilities, extensive rocket engine test facilities, a freight rail link and high-speed fiber Internet connections.

To Spaceport America Executive Director Dan Hicks, keeping up with these spaceport Jones means further investments.

To compete, Hicks says, New Mexico will need to invest more money in Spaceport America.

In the next five years, he hopes to at least begin the process of designing and building another runway, connect the spaceport to a nearby freight rail line, construct a payload processing facility and improve the vertical launch sites — the pads where rockets are fired into space.

The financing could come from public works accounts funded by taxpayers, from private businesses or a combination of sources.

Additional facilities could be particularly enticing for smaller companies, says [Tanya] Harrison, the professor at Arizona State University. But there are only a few big players, she adds, and those firms are either gravitating to other spaceports or building their own….

Hicks is lobbying state lawmakers to view further development at the spaceport as an investment in an engine for the Southern New Mexico economy.

Hicks says the spaceport could, for example, be the base for aircraft that can cut across the world at high speeds and reduce travel time between continents by several hours.

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