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Challenges ahead for Spaceport America

A conceptual drawing of Spaceport America. (Courtesy photo)

Spaceport America is nearly complete, nine months behind schedule, but “the real challenge is yet to come,” the Wall Street Journal is reporting.

From The Journal:

“The spaceport was launched in 2006 by former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, at a time when the state was flush with cash and the aeronautics world was abuzz with predictions of a boom in space tourism and commercial travel. Five years later, the state is hurting. The new Republican governor, Susana Martinez, has made clear that taxpayers are done subsidizing the spaceport, and it will need to cover its eventual operating budget of about $6 million a year.

“New Mexico is nearing completion of a $209 million spaceport – a commercial airport for spacecraft – in the middle of desolate ranch land. It’s meant to be a hub for Virgin Galactic’s planned jaunts into suborbital space.

“That could prove to be a heavy lift. The technological and marketing breakthroughs that were supposed to usher in a dramatic surge in space launches have been slow to materialize. What’s more, while New Mexico has the newest, flashiest spaceport, it faces tough competition from other states vying to host commercial launches.

“A spaceport in Virginia that once focused almost exclusively on hosting National Aeronautics and Space Administration and military launches is now reaching out to private firms, offering tax breaks and other incentives. Oklahoma is seeking tenants for a former Air Force base it converted into a spaceport. Potential rival projects in Puerto Rico and on the Texas coast are in preliminary discussions with Space Exploration Technologies Corp., founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk.

“Foreign nations, too, are racing to get in the game. XCOR Aerospace, a start-up that aims to be the low-fare leader in space tourism, plans to launch its rocket-powered flights from spaceports under development in South Korea and the Caribbean island of Curacao, as well as its home base of Mojave, Calif. New launch sites are also under discussion in Scandinavia and the U.K.”

The article provides a sobering look at a venture New Mexico is banking on to help drive the state’s economy in the future. Read the full article here.

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24 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. For the record:

    State law prohibits any Gross Receipts Tax from being imposed on aerospace enterprise involved in recoverable launches, to include all tickets sold for passengers aboard the Virgin Galactic vehicles. All research done on behalf of N.A.S.A or the U.S. military is also exempted, as are all businesses contracted by the State of New Mexico to provide goods and services at Spaceport America.

    READ: NO GROSS RECEIPTS TAX OF ANY KIND DERIVED FROM SPACEPORT AMERICA.

  2. “There is a reason that the location north of Las Cruces is superior to other locations. All the tax breaks and incentives in this world cannot overshadow the assets launching from New Mexico would bring.”

    This is pure poppycock. We cannot and will never be able to launch anything from our Spaceport that goes orbital unless the laws of physics are repealed and we have a viable single stage to orbit booster. Can you imagine the FAA allowing anyone to drop a (or most likely two) booster(s) on Roswell/Ruidoso/Alamogordo or anywhere else in NM.

    Suborbital tourist traffic is the only reason for the spaceport. NASA, USAF and the US Navy have been launching suborbital research rockets from WSMR for over 50 years–they have the facilities and instrumentation in place to track, recover and gather high speed data from these suborbital research rockets.

  3. I heard this week that “if” all goes well…”maybe” “just maybe” we could see a flight from this facility “sometime” in 2013….and that 400 individuals had placed a down payment to take a flight at $200,000 a pop. Wonderful.

    We might be lucky to get a fraction of that amount paid to New Mexicans. .

    Can anyone produce the contract between Virgin and the State of NM? Is it on the web site of the Space Port Authority? If not why not? The origianl deal with Virgin Galactic. Should be a fun read.

    I suspect that even IP would like to see that document.

    So now we have a year and a half or so to see if a flight might occur while we sit here and pay the expenses of running a vacant facility.

    400 flights …big deal.

    Missed the 50,000 pasanger projections given to us tax payers back in December 2005 by Bill Richardson. Missed by just a bit……. Ok more than a bit.

    Back then the project was estimated to be completed by 2009 and thousands of passengers were to be lifting off.. The Rocket Racing League was to be here…All kinds of new business.

    Funny how reality changes things isn’t it? Let’s face it. This is a turd.

    Watch out for legislation that puts NM tax payers on the hook for additional costs.

    I hope the folks who signed up for a tax district to help fund this bondoggle figure out how to stop this deal. But they bot of on this deal and deserve what they get I guess.

  4. Dr. J:

    Recognizing who is a liberal and knowing what we believe are two completely different things, and you have demonstrated no understanding of the latter; whenever you talk about what liberals believe, you are, almost without fail, incorrect. Indeed, your consistency in that respect is matched only by your consistency for falsification of sources and outrage based on demonstrably false logistics.

  5. The Spaceport will have to compete against better facilities on the east coast that are near better support facilities. Additionally if you look at Sea Launch they too can do a better job because they are closer to the equator and launch over the ocean so that if a launch goes bad the vehicle falls in the water not in a potentially populated area.

    IP my source of information on ridership for Rail RUnner was the Santa Fe New Mexican. IP your source is one data point in time. Paul Guessing is a good analyst but may have over stated ridership. That said he came to the same conclusion I did. The Rail Runner is a bad investment.

    If you use an average over a period of time I think I am close. Ridership went up a bit in the first quarter of 2011. But it was much less in 2009-2010.

    IP I used to work years ago in the transportation industry for a national rail road. Any RR only makes sense if you have volume…The Rail Runner does not.

    Most riders go round trip. I found that out earlier this year while working in Santa Fe and having to take the Rail Runner daily to the Capital…Not by choice but other reasons.

  6. Oh, now I see IP, you must be a chicken to recognize an egg. Indeed, unless I am a liberal I could not possiblity recognize one, I will remember that next time someone who is not a conservative comments about them. And IP, when the little train goes by and you see nothing but empty seats through all the windows, which you can see, they must all be hiding or standing in the walled areas or the west-facing seats to avoid my counting as it goes by a non-stop, yes, it makes perfect sense, thank you.

  7. Dr. J:

    Unlike you, I actually am a liberal, so do us all a favor and stop telling me what I believe; if you’re going to call someone ignorant, you may want to consider what a colossally foolish thing that is when you’re telling them that they are ignorant about themselves. Secondly, it is physically impossible to see the vast majority of the train’s occupants while sitting in your car at a far lower level than two-thirds of the seats and with a view of only one side of the train. As for history, you have shown a repeated and startling lack of knowledge about the subject prior to this, so it is useless to debate someone whose education on the subject is so remarkably self-restricted.

  8. People tend to overlook, or just wish not to believe, that New Mexico, in concert with NMSU and the PSL, assisted in writing the proposal that beat out all the other competing designs and locations for a spaceport. They won one of the intial X-Prizes. There is a reason that the location north of Las Cruces is superior to other locations. All the tax breaks and incentives in this world cannot overshadow the assets launching from New Mexico would bring. However, not all decisions are based on logic or intellect. Political clout in other aforementioned states and the lack of it in New Mexico will override the physics of the launch site. We may not be able to afford a spaceport in New MMexico, but it is looking like that we don’t deserve one anyway.

  9. IP, LOL! I also can laugh at your obvious ignorance and bias about liberals. And if you think the Zia station is a figment of my imagination what pray tell is this: http://nmrailrunner.com/zia.asp
    And what is that building sitting there, yes not open yet, at Zia and St. Francis I drive by frequently and have to sit at the right turn light off south bound St. Francis to turn on Zia as the little empty trains roll by, so I have ample opportunity and time to count heads, or the lack thereof, in the little train that couldn’t. If you really think liberals are not into massive public works projects, excessive spending of tax money we don’t have, and generally trying to carry people from cradle to grave with no personal responsibility on their part, then what has been going on in Congress the last few years as they controlled it all? And if you think Old Bill was conservative, just look at the mess of laws, strangling reguilations, and boondoggle projects (the RailRunner comes to mind to stay on topic) we have that are hurting our state’s economy and society. And now, you want to claim George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Monroe, Madison, etc. are all left wing liberals? Surely you jest. John Adams and his progeny were for certain, I’ll give you that. But Washington and Jefferson were more closely described as libertarians. Washington warned against foreign entanglements, loved the 2nd Amendment, and had mostly federalist ideals. Hardly a bleeding heart liberal, and do you forget the entire revolution was about unfair taxation??? Now a liberal loves taxes, the more the better, you can never have enough, as long as someone else is paying them. And Madison and Jefferson were adamantly against a central bank, where would today’s liberals be without that.

  10. Dr. J:

    Once again, please stop saying what “liberals” believe, because you’re still wrong. You have absolutely no idea what liberals believe, and if you think Bill Richardson qualifies as “liberal”, then clearly you’re in more need of a dictionary than I thought… to say nothing of the fact that liberals created this country in the first place and have spent over two centuries defending it from conservative assaults on our freedoms, so you’ll pardon me if I find your premise laughable.

  11. Dr. J:

    The Zia Station doesn’t actually exist yet (to say nothing of the fact that there are a full six stations before that point where people are disembarking), so once again, the only people buying your obviously-manufactured outrage are those who already share it; also, I ride the train you’re talking about once a week, and it’s typically still over 50% occupied by the time we reach the final stop at the Santa Fe Depot – two stops after the non-existent one you claim you were counting from. Also, Brad, the conversation has changed, yes, but that’s because some people seem to think that making the lives of working New Mexicans easier is somehow equivalent to building a rich-people’s playground in the middle of nowhere.

    MJM, I don’t know what magic hole you’re pulling your numbers from, but a) you are making several assumptions that a logically fallacious (the automatic assumption that they suddenly all became round-trip, for example, plus your inability to differentiate a weekday from a weekend), and b) I’m using the Rail Runner’s actual aggregate weekday numbers. It should be noted that Mr. Gessing (hardly a fan of the Rail Runner) was using the same numbers in his recent fatally-flawed argument against it.

  12. OK durablebrad, the spaceport is a waste of taxpayer money, like other things Old Bill and his allies in the Roundhouse inflicted on the poor NM taxpayers. It just fits a typical liberal MO and agenda for left wing politicians, that is why we need so badly to get rid of all of them come November 2012.

  13. MJM, Dr J., Icarus Phoenix,

    I know that you have a tremendous desire to discuss another topic, but this thread is in regards to Spaceport America.

  14. IP I think I understand your logic. There were about 286.5 k one-way riders in the first quarter of 2011 which was up quite a bit from 2010. There are 365 days in the year last I checked. So on average that works out to about 3,100 one way tickets a day..If you assume that most of those are round trip tickets that works out to about 1,550 passengers a day. So I guess I have to bite the bullett and say that I was off by about 150 passengers a day using my high end estimate…But as has been pointed out, ridership goes up and down with gas prices so if as occured over the last couple years gasoline goes back down I feel confident I will be ok fine with my projections. That sucking sound you hear as the train goes by are the $$$ you have to pay to keep the train running. Hold on to your wallet.

  15. Report from the 11 am train into Santa Fe yesterday at the Zia station, I counted and it was 9% occupied, your tax dollars at work.

  16. First of all, MJM, first of all, you’re not even in the ballpark; it’s 4,500 riders per day, and what the Rail Runner’s opponents never bother to point out is that, for the taxpayers, it is the second-cheapest inter-city train service in the entire country. It costs each of us the equivalent of three to four cups of coffee per year. Get rid of it, and you are costing the daily commuters among those 4,500 people – the People’s employees (as you yourself pointed out), riding the train alongside tourists who are demonstrably good for our state’s economy – a minimum of $1,440 in the next year alone just in additional fuel costs. You want logical, there’s the math.

  17. IP you are kiddinng aren’t you? You think that the 1,200-1,400 or so riders per day (most government employees) who are taking a subsidized train that costs the rest of us millions of dollars is a great deal. You are so logical much of the time! Better re- read your last comment. I know I make mistakes from time to time…but these two projects are economic basket cases. Ok lets talk a few priorities here. What would you rather have. Health Care, Schools or the Rail Runner and Space Port. We got to cut some of this dead weight. Better to start close to home before we talke Federal projects. Or do you think we can tax the hell out of those rich eletes IP?

  18. TeamPuroChile,

    No, the beauty of last years “necessary” legislation protecting the space tourism industry was that it indemnified everyone against accidents.

  19. IP, You are correct. The Rail Runner and the Spaceport aren’t even remotely equivalent. All New Mexicans are paying for the Rail Runner.

  20. And meanwhile, SpaceX has several space vehicles ready to go and are said to be almost ready to send people and equipment to the ISS, replacing the Russians, who continue to charge too much and crash too often. But, our celebrity seeking Guv decided to go with a star and carnival barker instead of a good businessman, like Musk. Huge mistake, we could have had SpaceX and instead we get carnival rides.

  21. MJM:

    The Rail Runner and the Spaceport aren’t even remotely equivalent; the former is used by regular working New Mexicans and saves thousands of people money every single day. The Spaceport is being paid for by a thankfully smaller number of New Mexicans and is only by a very small number of private interests who are enjoying themselves on our dime. Perspective is always useful, and it keeps you from making all-encompassing statements that compare middle-class New Mexicans trying to save money to wealthy private interests trying to make more than they need.

  22. Why I am shocked….Can’t blame this one on Governor Martinez. It needs to be put down with the Rail Runner. It is an economic turd. The longer this languishes the stinkier it gets. Another quarter billion dollars sent down the rat hole.

  23. The term “challenge” is a complete understatement:

    With limited water resources available in the vicinity, ambitious intentions of Spaceport officials to develop luxury overnight accomodations, a 5-star restaraunt, and an official tourist “Welcome Center” on-site appear to be jeopardized by the ongoing extreme drought in Sierra County. Adjacent private property wells which were sucked dry by the contractor employed to build the runway, may have to be supplied by tanker trucks into the summer of 2112… at taxpayer expense.

    Rather than steering the project towards minimum cost and minimum impact on local infrastructure and emergency services capacity, Spaceport America continues to be plagued by visions of grandeur that cost far more than our state can afford at this point in time. Other more reasonable models being constructed elsewhere by competitors, may arrive on time, under budget, and in functional capacity long before the first international spaceflight leaves Cutter, New Mexico.

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