Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Spaceport investment not paying off


October 2, 2012

It's located in the southern New Mexico desert, far from most New Mexicans' homes, but its $209 million taxpayer-funded price tag should keep it close to the front of voters' and legislators' minds.

Because so far the investment isn't paying off when it comes to launching a competitive product in the exploding market of commercial space travel.

Spaceport America is still trying to get other ancillary companies to join Virgin Galactic and two rocket companies that send vertical payloads into space.

Until that happens, is it any wonder the only related development has been a single Holiday Inn Express in Truth or Consequences, 25 miles away? And is that where the more than 500 folks who have plunked down $200K each to climb aboard a spacecraft will likely stay?

So far lawmakers who granted Virgin Galactic a permanent liability exemption have declined to extend it to suppliers as well. TorC Mayor John Mulcahy says "the issue is informed consent legislation. We need to get that passed."

Until then, those suppliers are going somewhere else and creating the synergy needed to make that other state's spaceport investment attractive to private development, profitable for all involved and an economic driver for the economy.

l XCOR Aerospace makes reusable rocket engines for major aerospace contractors and is designing a two-person space vehicle called the Lynx. It has rejected New Mexico twice in favor of Texas and Florida.

l RocketCrafters Inc. passed on New Mexico for Florida.

l SpaceX, a space tourism company, is considering putting a plant with $50 million in annual salaries in Texas.

Extending the waiver to suppliers costs taxpayers nothing. Well, except for those taxpayers who are trial lawyers who make their living filing lawsuits. Similar to those that exempt ski areas from lawsuits by skiers, the Spaceport waivers apply only to passengers who have paid big bucks and read big packets on the risk of strapping themselves inside a tube powered by rocket fuel for a ride into suborbital space.

They do not apply to anyone on the ground. And if there is gross negligence, all waivers are off.

Considering New Mexico's open airspace, Air Force bases, White Sands Missile Range and national labs, our state should be first on the launchpad when it comes to attracting this new industry.

But there are nine spaceports planned around the country, and 10 others have been proposed. If New Mexico doesn't lay some smart groundwork fast, it is going to be left in the exhaust of the others taking off.

— Albuquerque Journal


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