Midland Councilman Blasts Continued Spending on Spaceport Without Launches

The city of Midland — its dreams of flight to suborbital spaceflight dashed by the bankruptcy of XCOR Aerospace — continues to spend money trying to attract tenants to its west Texas spaceport. The question is whether the city is merely throwing good money after bad?

Texas Scorecard reports:

At a recent Midland City Council meeting, Councilman Spencer Robnett blasted continued spending on the project, saying that, to date, more than $20 million in taxpayer funds have been spent. He asked fellow council members to take a critical look at the cost.

“I think that the longer we perpetuate the myth of Midland being a town of a spaceport … we will continue to waste taxpayer dollars on it,” Robnett stated. “The fact that we think we can turn the largest secure oil field in the world into a spaceport town and that we will waste tax dollars doing it … I just can’t get on board with that.”

Councilman J. Ross Lacy, who recently announced his candidacy for U.S. Congress, quickly responded to Robnett’s remarks, stating funds used for the spaceport are “not tax dollars.” Lacy has long been a strong proponent of the spaceport.

“These are City of Midland airport dollars,” Spencer responded. “They are Midland Development tax dollars—those are tax dollars.”

Continuing the unusual debate on whether the funds the governmental entity was about to appropriate were tax dollars, Lacy went further, saying, “No, these are not tax dollars; these are funds that are coming out of the airport funds that are only paid for by people that use the airport.”

Half of that $20 million was spent on recruiting XCOR to operate from the airport. However, the company never fully moved its operations from its base at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California before going bankrupt in November 2017. Nor did XCOR every fly its Lynx space plane from Midland or Mojave.

Midland also spent millions building a facility for Orbital Outfitters, a spacesuit company that was building spacesuits for XCOR. Orbital Outfitters also went out of business.

The story has some interesting information about what the spaceport has continued to cost Midland:

  • $100,000 to extend Midland’s spaceport license with the Federal Aviation Administration
  • $21,000 per year for membership in the Commercial Spaceflight Federation;
  • more than $1,300 for lodging for two officials at the upscale Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, DC; and,
  • $1,042.60 for a single meal at the city’s Occidental Grill.

Midland spaceport’s effort to attract tenants hasn’t been a complete failure, however, In November 2018, AST&Science announced that it was establishing a new high-volume North American satellite manufacturing plant and corporate headquarters at the Midland spaceport.

The space technology company’s new 85,000 sq. ft. facility is located within the Space Port Business Park at the Midland International Air and Space Port, the first commercial airport to obtain a Space Port License from the Federal Aviation Administration. It will augment the current R&D, engineering and manufacturing capabilities in Maryland and Europe operated by AST&Science and its subsidiary AST&Defense.

The new plant will be one of the largest “New Space” manufacturing facilities in the United States and will create more than 160 space manufacturing jobs in Midland, according to AST&Science chairman and CEO Abel Avellan, who said the company expects to invest over $30 million in the facility over the next several years and to achieve annual production capacity of 100,000 space modules, called Microns.

The new AST&Science plant will design, build, integrate, manage and launch satellite platforms into low Earth orbits (LEO) in a fully integrated aeronautical and space operation. Avellan noted that the collocation of the high-volume manufacturing and direct airside access for the horizontal launch capability, using carrier aircraft at the Midland Space Port, will be an important element in the company’s planned rapid LEO satellite deployments.