Economy Government Spending New Mexico Space Policy

Hope Is Not an Economic-Development Strategy

Why is it so difficult to admit that Spaceport America is a complete bust?

The New Mexico Museum of Space History is a fine facility, and well worth a lengthy visit if you’re ever within reasonable driving distance of the Tularosa Basin. (The exhibits inside are fascinating, and don’t miss the impressive hardware outside.)

But the museum is also division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, and as such, it toes the company line.

The Southwest Public Policy Institute attended Friday’s lecture, “New Space Update: More Than NASA,” featuring Tony Gondola, the NMMSH’s outreach coordinator. Disappointingly, the state employee was all happy talk about Virgin Galactic, which he believes will soon start “flying again.”

The company’s founder has made countless unmet promises — for a decade a half. Its stock is performing abysmally. (Rock-bottom was reached late last year.) Two shareholder lawsuits allege fraud. And the “spaceline” burns through substantial piles of cash, quarter after quarter, with next to no revenue flowing in. Confronted with these facts, Gondola replied that he remains a believer, because he’s “ever hopeful.” After all, Virgin Galactic’s staffers “haven’t given up.”

Seriously. That’s what he said.

As perhaps the grandest corporate-welfare boondoggle in the eight states we study, Spaceport America is constantly on the SPPI’s radar. With the release of its comprehensive annual financial report for fiscal 2022, we now know that taxpayers have showered $286.1 million on the facility. Of all revenue received by Spaceport America, just 10.5 percent was generated by leases, launches, and tours.

And the “anchor tenant”? In 2019, 2020, and 2021 alone, Virgin Galactic’s net loss totaled $1.2 billion. (In the first three quarters of 2023, it swallowed another $350 million in red ink.) Yes, its chief competitor in suborbital tourism, Blue Origin, is still getting back on its feet from a failed (but fortunately, non-manned) flight in September. But as the chart below indicates, Blue Origin’s record is embarrassingly better — a launch every four months, with no fatalities, versus Virgin Galactic’s rate of a launch every 17 months, with three deaths on the ground and one in the air.

Source: SPPI archive of launch data (shaded Blue Origin flights manned; shaded Virgin Galactic flight the fatal accident in 2014; apogee for BO23 estimated)

Sadly, Gondola’s cheerleading offered more evidence that Spaceport America enthusiasts are morphing into a modern-day cargo cult, with members deluding themselves that it’s only a matter of time before the “maverick billionaire” who promised Sierra County an economic-development marvel finally delivers all those jobs and tax dollars.

Employment in New Mexico has dropped for five months in a row. Drowning in cash from federal “relief” and hydrocarbon revenue, the Roundhouse has tremendous flexibility to craft economic-development policies that work. Spaceport America stands as a powerful example of what not to do.

By D. Dowd Muska

Dowd brings nearly 30 years of research and writing experience to the Institute. A veteran of several think tanks, he is an expert on government at the municipal, county, state, and federal levels.

Raised on an apple orchard in the Connecticut River Valley, D. Dowd Muska is a researcher, writer, editor, and commentator. His focus is the nexus of fiscal policy, economic development, and technology.

Mr. Muska is the author of numerous policy studies, and his writing has appeared in newspapers throughout the nation, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal, The Detroit News, the Orlando Sentinel, the Cape Cod Times, the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Hartford Courant, the Waco Tribune-Herald, the Albuquerque Journal, the New Haven Register, and The Oklahoman. A graduate of The George Washington University, he lives in the Albuquerque metro area, but has started (very) early planning for a relocation to the Sierra Blanca in Lincoln County, New Mexico. He recently launched the Substack platform No Dowd About It.

6 replies on “Hope Is Not an Economic-Development Strategy”

What does SPPI recommend for the spaceport location? What sort of tenants should NM be recruiting? Very good piece.

Walk away. It’s the only (ethical) option at this point.

Sierra County doesn’t have the location, the workforce, the infrastructure to offer launch companies. Building a “spaceport” there was madness. (“Partnering” with a charlatan like Branson was a huge mistake, too.)

In 2022, Florida and California had a market share of 82 percent of the nation’s liftoffs. It’s difficult to see that changing anytime soon. Admit defeat, and sell it off as a curiosity to anyone who’ll fork over a hundred bucks.

NM has had single party Dem rule in the state legislature , courts and state government since 1931. Regardless of how badly the state is run, Dem politicians suffer no electoral consequences. Why should they apologize to voters when the majority of voters don’t care?

The voters in this state are the stupidest in the nation. They cry and complain when they don’t get their way but still vote for Dems.

Even the Republicans in leadership positions in the GOP are still doing the same things they did 30 years ago, as evidenced by Steve Pierce as the chair AGAIN even though he is a do nothing failure.

Having been a resident for 35 years, I am reminded every day how the democrats in this state promise and promise without ever producing any real economic growth that is based on private investments and true capitalism. Every promise is made using the taxpayers money which should only be utilized for defense, public safety, public health and infrastructure projects that benefit everyone, not corporations and or the politicians themselves. I am so tired of their false promises, lies and destruction of individual rights and attempt to rewrite the United States Constitution.

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