New Mexico Gubernatorial Candidates Give Mixed Signals on Spaceport America

Spaceport America's runway under construction has asked New Mexico’s gubernatorial candidates about continued support for Spaceport America. The state-funded facility, now under construction in the desert near Las Cruces, was championed by outgoing Gov. Bill Richardson and will be a main launch site for suborbital space tourism flights for Virgin Galactic.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez says the state has already spent lots of money on Spaceport America and can no longer be its “major financer,” while Democratic opponent Diane Denish says she is a supporter of the spaceport but didn’t directly answer a question about the project’s funding.

Martinez said the spaceport has “has an impressive potential to bring development opportunities to southern New Mexico,” but given the current economic realities, “additional large investments” by state government “would be a misguided use of our taxpayer funds.” She said it’s time to “attract more industry and private business to the spaceport facility to assist with future development costs.”

Denish didn’t talk specifically about the funding, but said space commercialization “can and will be an important part of Southern New Mexico’s economic future.” She said as governor she will have a “strong focus” on rural and southern economic development and called the spaceport “a visionary idea that has strong local support.”

You can read their full responses here.

New Mexico is spending about $200 million of public money on the facility, largely on the strength of Virgin Galactic’s decision to sign a 20-year lease as an anchor tenant. The company will launch tourists on $200,000 per seat suborbital flights aboard its SpaceShipTwo vehicle.

Just how soon commercial flights will begin is uncertain. This depends upon how quickly prime contractor Scaled Composites can complete testing on SpaceShipTwo and progress on the vehicle’s engine, which is being developed by the Sierra Nevada Corporation. Virgin Galactic officials are not giving any estimates at this point.

Richardson has said he expects the spaceport to begin paying off in about five years. He hopes the spaceport will become a magnet for aerospace business, helping to attract high-tech companies and jobs to an underdeveloped part of the state.

In additional to Virgin Galactic, a Colorado company called UP Aerospace launches sounding rockets from the spaceport. Other commercial space firms are also considering flying out of the facility.