Series on Spaceport America Looks on the Bright Side

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America) began a five-part series on Spaceport America today. Is Spaceport America taking flight? is the first installment.

The piece is fairly optimistic on the financial front, perhaps too much so. It examines positive financial impact on the local economy to date and projects forward to when Virgin Galactic begins flying commercially from the facility, possibly next year.
Yes, the area is benefiting from the spaceport, but the numbers seem meager given the $225 million that taxpayers have poured into the project, the years of delay and the promises made at the time about the expected economic impacts.

One thing that is not examined is that residents of two local counties voted to tax themselves to support spaceport construction with the idea the money would go toward paying off bonds. Excess amounts have been diverted to plugging holes in the spaceport’s budget caused by delays in Virgin Galactic beginning flight operations there.

Perhaps the author will deal with that controversy tomorrow. In the meantime, I did find a few things in the piece of interest given the years I’ve spent watching the Mojave Air and Space Port operate.

Fifty-one people currently have government jobs with the Spaceport Authority – including Hicks and his staff in Las Cruces and the contract fire and security crews at the spaceport, Hicks said. Most are full-time positions. Those people spend money in the local economy.

That sounds like a lot. Mojave is a general aviation airport, spaceport, rocket test area and industrial park all in one. I don’t think they have that many people involved in running the facility, which is pretty busy compared with Spaceport America.

Being located an hour outside of Truth or Consequences means that Spaceport America needs full-time fire protection. The Mojave spaceport can rely on local fire service for backup during operating hours and protection during the rest of the week. There’s also a Kern County Sheriff station right outside the main entrance to supplement airport security.

There’s also this interesting paragraph.

Funding issues, including tension over whether the state or local communities should shoulder more of the burden, need to be resolved. New Mexico’s spaceport gets less public funding than facilities in Florida and Virginia. To attract new companies, Hicks’ team has identified additional infrastructure needs, including hangars and runways. [Emphasis added]

Translation: taxpayers should be prepared to pour more money into the facility that’s already cost them nearly a quarter billion dollars. Although some of the funds for these improvements will come from revenues once Virgin Galactic begins to fly from Spaceport America, taxpayers will be on the hook for the rest.

The runway is a biggie. To save money on the original project, New Mexico built a single runway. A crosswind runway would allow for more operations and also improve safety. (Mojave, by the way, has three runways of different lengths.)

Runways don’t come cheap. In 2012, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) spent $7 million to add 2,000 feet to Spaceport America’s existing 10,000-foot runway.

Hangars can be as inexpensive or as elaborate as you want to make them. But, they also need roads, parking lots, utilities and taxiways that need to be built, maintained and expanded as needed.

Additional tenants would be a good insurance policy against another catastrophic failure of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. Right now, the company has only one spacecraft, which means it’s risking an enormous amount every time they fly the vehicle.

It has taken about three years for Virgin Galactic to recover from the loss of SpaceShipTwo Enterprise on Oct. 31, 2014. Another accident could delay commercial flights from New Mexico by years if it doesn’t end the SpaceShipTwo program entirely.

Given how generous New Mexico was with Virgin Galactic (the spaceport cost about $225 million), prospective new tenants are going to be coming in expecting the state to pony up. Companies don’t like paying for basic infrastructure; that’s what governments (i.e., taxpayers) are for.

  • Hemingway

    This is an excellent review of the story on Spaceport America.

  • Jason Miller

    So the spaceport did a haphazard, unprofessional analysis of its own economic impact, and then destroyed all the notes used to produce that analysis. But they’re totally sure it was worth the $225 million!

    I mean, if those $225 million had been left in the pockets of taxpayers, those idiots would presumably have taken that money and burned it, right? There’s no way they would’ve spent it or invested it in things that actually create value for people.

  • I think its MUCH more than 225 million that has been wasted. That number seems to be being spun downward.

  • Zach De Gregorio, CPA is the owner of Wolves and Finance Inc. (named after his book on Theoretical Finance, now available on Amazon).!! Theoretical Finance!!!!!

  • Ron Fenn

    The “money” being spent by the Spaceport personnel is largely tax money so… it’s recycled tax money, we need “new” money created to pull this economy out of the pot.
    As for infrastructure needs like a new runway, why not fund it with the $100+ million media value dollars that the Authority has earned and spouts at every opportunity.

  • aa jondo

    Even the money spent on the launches and tests are paid by NASA, so taxpayers are on the hook no matter what goes on out there… a taxpayers’ money pit… and NM is where on unemployment and childhood welfare and education?

  • aa jondo

    I wonder what influence was exerted by NMSA and Santa Fe… wait, isn’t this guy doing the glaze over in Santa Fe?

  • aa jondo

    We have spent well over $250 million and VG claims they have spent over $5 milllion since they got here in 2006… and how much tax break do they get for all that money they spent here going to lunch and dinner and staying in the Encanto and renting prime office space… some how we keep coming back to how much the taxpayer is spending keeping these guys rolling in the dough!!!

  • Hemingway

    Something is wrong in this picture. Spaceport America was to create jobs in New Mexico. Look at this: Andrew Watson Design specializes in creating unique, custom designed trophies & awards. This Canadian firm, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, designed the Spaceport America Cup awards. The question is why did Spaceport America use a Canadian firm rather than one of the many companies in either Las Cruces or New Mexico. How much did these awards cost? I don’t understand this.

    Here is website of Andrew Watson Design:

    andrew watson design
    Andrew Watson Design specialises in the creation of unique, handcrafted custom designed trophies, awards and gifts. Andrew Watson Design offers creative services …

    Spaceport America on Twitter

    “ICYMI: Check out the amazing @Spaceport_Cup and trophies designed by Andrew Watson Design! #SACup17 #SpaceportAmericaCup”

  • Kim Audette

    The $pacePork was begun as profits from the Maddoff Ponzi, to pay off cronies. But wait, you say, that Maddoff thing crashed. Indeed! And the taxpayers had to carry it since since the crash depleted the pension funds that the state owed it’s employees.

    That’s Enron style double indemnity. And keep in mind the poor carry the highest tax burden. Services to the poor have been cut to make up the deficit. So now we’re at triple indemnity.

    But wait! There’s more!

    The tour company revealed that Branson was running a Ponzi on the SpaceTours. The tour operator was finding ticket buyers for the SpaceTours in return for his own ticket. Since then, the SpacePort Tour Center got free rent from the City, but had to close up anyway after spending a million on providing tours for $70 each, plus franchise fees.For mostly empty buses. Also, more than half of the deposits on the much touted $250 K Spacetour tickets sitshave had to be returned for various reasons. Mostly, it’s been 10 years, the chances have run out.

    Sierra County’s GRT dropped during this supposed “boom” of business. T or C’s poverty rate is now 8th highest in the nation. The spin by Bookie Zach & Godfathah Hicks is not supported by facts.

    After being ruled in violation of IPRA because Bookie Zack destroyed his notes, $pacePork wants to go “Dark”. Like “Organized crime is lurking in the sidelines”.

    $100 per day, Zack and Hicks. And if you won’t be held accountable for misspending millions in economic development funds, you are likely to lose your pensions.

    The poor pay the highest taxes in New Mexico. The