SANTE FE, NM (NM Senate Democrats PR) — A Senate bill to sell the Spaceport America facility moved on to the Senate Finance (SFC) with a bipartisan no-recommendation on Thursday. After a brief debate, the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee (SCORC) voted to move along Senate Bill 267 (SB267), “Sale of Spaceport America,” sponsored by Senator George K. Muñoz (D-4-Cibola, McKinley & San Juan).
“The Legislature is getting virtually no pertinent financial information regarding the Spaceport or its anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic,” said Sen. Muñoz. “I feel that Virgin Galactic is in violation of its lease. In addition, it appears that Spaceport America is illegally using bond money for its day-to-day operations budget.”
Christine Anderson told members of SCORC that the Spaceport is directly responsible for creating as many as 1,400 related jobs in southern New Mexico. SCORC senators learned that there are 35 state employees working at the site.
“Spaceport has one launch director,” Sen. Muñoz told the committee. “He probably plowed a lot of snow but he’s never hit a launch button.”
For several years in a row, Virgin Galactic has delayed its promise to take passengers into space, citing technical problems and liability issues regarding operators and suppliers, an issue the Legislature resolved two years ago. A recent fatal accident regarding a Virgin Galactic test flight in California put most of its space tourism operations on hold and early indications point to pilot error causing the crash.
“I don’t know who the potential buyers would be, but whatever proceeds we receive could be used to paying down the debt New Mexico committed to when we built the place,” Sen. Muñoz said. “There was a lot of hoopla before that if ‘We build it, they will come,’ but it’s been several years now and nobody’s shown up yet. New Mexican taxpayers are continuing to foot the bill for a $250 million empty facility that is providing the Legislature shaky operational information at best.”
Muñoz pointed out that New Mexico was the first state to build such a space-tourism facility and now many other states have built similar operations and are in direct completion for attracting space tourists. Anderson, who said the Spaceport is opposed to SB267, told SCORC that there are now nine FAA-licensed spaceports in the United States.
A hearing date in the SFC has not yet been scheduled.