A New Plan For New Mexico's Spaceport America

Jan 8, 2018

Commentary: Spaceport America - Our Spaceport - is a problem for us.  It has cost over $220M and counting, so far, but has returned virtually nothing on that investment.  

I agree with Dan Hicks, the current Spaceport Director, who says that our Spaceport must become competitive with 10 currently licensed spaceports around the country, and many others around the world, if it is to have a future.  He estimates the cost to reach that level of capability at about $7B.  Remember, so far we have built an airport - huge runway and hangar for Virgin Galactic’s White Knight aircraft - with minimal ability to handle vertical launch vehicles, which is where the future lies, according to Mr. Hicks.

He looks past Virgin Galactic, to the day when Spaceport America is the equivalent of Cape Canaveral, launching astronauts and satellites into space on a regular basis.

The vision is wonderful, the cost and the risk are staggering.  The successful in this business in the future will be private industry, those with the vision, the knowledge, and the resources to carry it off.   We can see Jeff Bezos of Amazon,  building and flying Blue Origin rockets from his spaceport north of Van Horn, TX; Elon Musk of SpaceX is launching his rockets regularly, and he is building his own spaceport south of Brownsville, TX.  NASA has already privatized most of their rocket development and launching.

There are possibilities for our spaceport to become successful, in the arena with many others and at the scale Mr. Hicks foresees, but I believe that can happen only if it is owned, operated, and funded by private industry.  Our state lacks the required expertise, the funding, and the ability to react to changing developments in the future.  We are wasting time and money in attempts to be successful. A successful spaceport must be huge, expensive, and agile to keep up with new technology.  

Bureaucratic Management is the antithesis of what is needed for a successful Spaceport.  To be successful, the Spaceport manager can’t wait for chains of approval, depending on funding from the legislature and county governments, changes of mission to meet evolving technology, reporting to Committees – that Manager must be able to MOVE and RESPOND to the ever-changing needs of the customers. And if the Spaceport fails to attract customers at any point, we can see our entire investment become just a lot of concrete in a remote desert area.

We need to sell our spaceport, to get our investment into the hands of those who know how to take it into the future, and can afford the trip.  This is how we find out the value and potential of our investment.  If the spaceport is owned and run by a private company, we will still get the advantages we hope for - tourism, industrial development, more jobs - those come no matter who runs the business.  But the taxpayers can stop paying to keep it afloat, and the huge bills in the future, and the potential for losses.  I believe we could sell it for $1, eat the investment to date, and our spaceport future would improve immediately.

If we can’t decide what to do with the Spaceport America, let’s ask the experts.  Ask Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk or Paul Allen for advice.  Can’t hurt.  We’ve got to find a viable future for our spaceport.