New Mexico long has been dependent on income from oil and gas as a primary source of revenue, and while that has gone up and down over the years, the state is experiencing a tremendous windfall offering opportunities to make investments that will grow other sectors of the economy.
Strategic investments will enhance the already thriving aerospace and commercial space industry in the state and create the infrastructure necessary to attract some of the billions projected to be invested in commercial space in the next several decades.
Space may not be the first “tradition” that comes to mind about New Mexico, but the state already has a long history of contributions to space flight. Robert Goddard, known as the “father of modern rocketry,” made his home in Roswell. A rocket testing facility, now called White Sands Missile Range, was created by the government in 1945, is still a major component of U.S. military and space research and testing, and includes a NASA test facility.
New Mexico is also home to Sandia National Laboratories, whose space mission addresses complex national security issues in space; Los Alamos National Laboratory, which has for 50 years built and analyzed data instrumentation for space missions; and the Space Vehicles Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory, which conducts space technology research and development. And New Mexico has Spaceport America, a world-class facility that already has as clients some of the most respected companies in the commercial space industry: Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Pipeline2Space and Exos Aerospace Systems & Technologies, in addition to its anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic.
Investments in Spaceport America and other space-related infrastructure also will enhance the growth of the already substantial commercial space industry in New Mexico. A recent report by New Space New Mexico identified over 60 companies in the space industry that already make a home in the state. And an initiative called STEM Boomerang is going into its third year of helping young New Mexican professionals looking for good jobs in the tech industry connect with businesses, agencies and research institutions looking for employees.
Investments by the commercial space industry are projected by a 2017 Merrill Lynch/Bank of America report to grow to nearly $3 trillion (yes, trillion) in the next several decades. This estimated growth is due largely to private investment in launch capability and satellite manufacturing and services, all perfect for Spaceport America, and all of which would benefit from the supportive research and development climate in New Mexico.
Many states are working desperately to build new spaceports, and those who have them are pouring money into infrastructure and support systems to attract new customers. Spaceport America has optimally restricted air space from surface to unlimited (thanks to proximity to White Sands Missile Range), horizontal and vertical launch areas, exceptional weather conditions (no hurricanes and 340 days of sunshine), and a remote secure location ideal for proprietary research and testing for commercial space entrepreneurs.
Using current budget surpluses to grow new industries to replace the inevitable decline of oil and gas revenues is responsible economic development policy. Growing the existing aerospace and commercial space sector and strategically investing to attract new development will allow the state to attract some of the millions that will be invested in commercial space over the next few decades. It will also create employers for young New Mexicans searching for futuristic careers that allow them to stay home.
Spaceport America can be the hub of a thriving commercial space economy in our state, and the Legislature and governor would do well to invest some of the current windfall toward making that happen.
Anne Watkins is an ambassador for Spaceport America and an active supporter of New Space New Mexico and STEM Boomerang. She lives in Santa Fe.