New Mexico spaceport boss seeks funds to keep momentum going

Guests explore the area around the Spaceport America hangar in Upham shortly after its grand opening in 2011.

ALBUQUERQUE — Operations are ramping up at Spaceport America in New Mexico, and the executive director told lawmakers Monday he needs an additional $2 million in annual funding to keep the momentum going.

Scott McLaughlin testified before a legislative science and technology committee. Without the funding, he warned that he would have to cut staff and limit operations at the desert outpost to just five days a week. Now, the spaceport operates around the clock based on customers’ needs.

The current budget is around $10 million, with about 60 percent of that coming from customers such as anchor tenant Virgin Galactic, which reached the edge of space over the summer with billionaire Richard Branson aboard its winged rocket ship.

McLaughlin told lawmakers that the goal is to grow revenue and that the return on investment will be jobs for the southern New Mexico economy. He pointed to about 460 direct and indirect jobs that stem from activity at the spaceport, saying that activity results in an estimated $2 million in taxes that are returned to the state.

The extra money being requested “would stabilize us and get us to a point where we just could grow, and we could service the customers we have and continue to bring in more customers,” McLaughlin said.

Investors will be watching for Virgin Galactic to start up commercial flights in late 2022. McLaughlin said that in 2023 there are expectations of about three flights from the spaceport per month, and that’s expected to bring in more revenue.

Meanwhile, rocket company SpinLaunch recently tested its launch system from the spaceport and has indicated it will return next year for more tests.

McLaughlin said the idea is to sell New Mexico as a “complete ecosystem” that can accommodate the aerospace industry through competitive tax policies and access to researchers at the state’s universities and national laboratories. He told lawmakers that New Mexico doesn’t have to lose customers to California, Texas or Florida.

Spaceport officials also plan to start working on obtaining a re-entry license from federal aviation officials. Aside from vertical and horizontal launches, McLaughlin said that could open up a new avenue for customers.

The New Mexico Legislature will meet in January for a 30-day session focused on the budget. Revenue projections have suggested that the state will likely be flush with cash.

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(14) comments

Kirk Holmes

I propose a name change. "A Bridge to Nowhere" seems appropriate.

Stephen Cockrum

Did you know that purchasers of tickets for a ride to space on the Virgin Galactic pay NOT ONE PENNY of New Mexico Gross Receipts (Sales) tax on their purchases!! As tickets now cost up to $455,000.00 each, the state will lose a minimum of $24,500.00 to upwards of $32,500.00 per ticket sold. How about we change that before we ask the taxpayers of New Mexico to put any additional money into this very questionable enterprise??

Matthew Rawlings

Hear Hear!! And good information! NM taxpayers have paid enough for this boondoggle.

Khal Spencer

[thumbup][thumbup]

Chris Mechels

A leftover Bad Idea from Gov Bill Richardson and his Presidential ambitions. Why are we still feeding this loser?? The answer seems to be JOBS, very expensive, deadwood, jobs. Lets close the spaceport, and pay these losers to stay home. It would be less expensive and safer.

At LANL we had a metric; "negative FTEs". A "negative 5" meant it cost you the output of 5 FTEs when the person came to work. I worked for a negative 5, who on a peak day could reach negative 20. The Spaceport seems such a project, its existence subtracts from the state's prospects. Time to end the Richardson era.

BARRY SILVER

chris...negative fte's. a useful concept, and bang on re the ''space'port.

in england, the expression, '' on a hiding to ''nothing'' means pretty much the same, but whatever a ''hiding'' is, i have no idea. still, sir richard needs to dig into his balance sheets and various corporate and personal holdings to achieve his goal. we've parted with enough state/personal funds already.

Khal Spencer

Wasn't that a form of the Los Alamos Laws?

Scott Smart

Funy they cite an unproven number of jobs being created but ignore the over $250 million that we the taxpayers have already dumped in to this white elephant. And every year more money is requested, both for operations and construction.

Robert Fields

It’s funny how a facility built for expensive space joyrides needs public funds to keep operating at whatever level they think it ought to operate. Shouldn’t the joyriders pay for their own rides? Shouldn’t Branson fund his own company’s operations?

Same for Bezos and Musk. No more public funds to pay for the follies of the rich and privileged. If the rich want to go play in space, they ought to do it on their own dime - or start paying their fair share of taxes.

Mike Johnson

Well said Mr. Fields, and to any legislator, JUST SAY NO!

Robert Fields

I didn’t say that. I just said that public funding shouldn’t be used to pay into these joyrides. Seed money and incentives are used to jumpstart projects that need help getting going. The CEOs of these ventures are all multibillionaires who can afford to fund these projects directly.

There are smaller ventures like the rocket engine company mentioned in the article that might be a different story. But the billionaire joyriders club needs to get the tap turned off. They can afford paying for their own infrastructure. They sit on mounds of cash and we’re supposed to pay for their facilities? To that I’ll say no, but not extending that to the general legislature. Nancy Reagan floated that slogan years ago. It didn’t work then, either.

Khal Spencer

I'm not sure you can easily split that hair, Robert. Until we start seeing some evidence of spinoffs similar to the NASA space program that benefits society at large, I feel like my pockets are being picked by the billionaires as the legislature holds my arms back. Reverse Robin Hood Syndrome.

Mike Johnson

Well said Khal, the Spaceport is like pornography, it has no redeeming social value, or commercial value either. Sell it or starve it of any additional state funds, if it can operate based on what it takes in (including interest on the capital the tax payers have paid in) from any business ventures that actually pay, fine, if not cut it off.

Khal Spencer

Crony capitalism, and we are getting our pockets picked again.

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