Yet another national publication has come to New Mexico to ask questions and report on the failed Spaceport America. The latest is Undark Magazine which describes itself as “Non-profit & editorially independent. Exploring #science as a frequently wondrous, sometimes contentious, and occasionally troubling byproduct of human culture.”
I recently sat down with a reporter for a story on the Spaceport called “Spaceport America: New Mexico’s Protracted Gamble on Commercial Spaceflight.” Among the choice quotes (the former is mine, the latter is not) from the piece:
For a “poor state with a poor track record of picking winners and losers,” Spaceport America was a huge gamble for many reasons, said Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a public policy research organization headquartered in Albuquerque. “We don’t know what the future of the commercial space industry is.” Gessing went on to question how deep this market is, stating “The reliance on somewhat unproven technology is critical.”
“There are just so many unknowns,” he added.
And, A combination of the sunk cost fallacy and faith has sustained Spaceport America so far. But the novelty is wearing off, and New Mexico is losing its competitive edge as other states build spaceport facilities. For many residents, what drives the project forward is a simple hope that the state’s investments will finally create returns.
8 Replies to “RGF cited in national story on failed NM Spaceport”
As long as the Spaceport is operational, we should make the most of it. This summer, the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) hosts the second annual Spaceport America Cup Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC), drawing over 100 college teams from around the world. Take a look at the team list for 2018! http://www.soundingrocket.org/sa-cup-home.html The public can participate in the design review in Las Cruces on Jun 19 and observe rocket launches at the Spaceport Jun 21-23. Scoring is based on a variety of parameters but the basic requirement is to carry an 8.8 pound payload to 10K or 30K feet. I was a judge last year and got to see all the details up close. Let’s show the world that NM cares about technology development and support this event.
That’s all well and good and I’m not disagreeing anything you’re saying here (and I appreciate your publicizing the event). In fact, RGF has taken a “wait and see” approach even while remaining opposed to the initial vision of the taxpayer-financed project. The problem we have now is that the Legislature (and Gov.) are throwing more money at the project like the $10 million hangar and the additional operating funds.
The State of New Mexico has mismanaged the Spaceport completely. It has closely guarded access to the port, has squandered potential because of mismanagement, and has botched the whole tax issue. Their over-controlling of the Spaceport assures future failure. Their Ace in the Hole, Virgin may or may not restore some potential.
They should have followed Mojave’s example which has stimulated and complemented the local economy.
The “original sin” of the spaceport was to design it for Branson’s vision of runway takeoffs. If we had a launchpad we’d at least have followed the tried and true model of space launches that has proven successful. NM tied itself to Virgin Galactic and that has not proven to be a smart bet.
While the above comment describes a worthwhile activity, it has nothing to do with the financial mess that is Spaceport America. When I first moved here 22 years ago the New Mexico State Fair grossed up their attendance figures by the thousands of school kid admitted free. How many of the members of the 100 college teams or new loads of school kids paid the current $50 cost for the concessionaire to enter the site? At first, Spaceport grossed up their projected revenues with outrageous attendance numbers even though it would have cost a family of four upwards of $200 for the visit. Then tourism secretary Jacobson equated the theme building on par with the Sydney Opera House. Since paid attendance is no longer meaningful the Spaceport has instead imputed “earned media” to justify a return on investment. In 2016 then Exec Dir Anderson claimed $106 million even though most of the coverage is in the “failure to launch” genre. If you examine the profiles of competing spaceports you will find they are operating out of traditional airport hangers. This is true even for Branson’s operations at the Mojave facility in California. Currently Spaceport America is approved to build a new hanger subject to pre-leasing at a cost of $10 million. When we say “purpose built” it is code for Virgin Galactic. Vertical launchers don’t need a two mile runway or an “iconic” theme building. What the taxpayers have purchased is a user friendly facility that is anything but visitor friendly.
What we have purchased is a white elephant or boondoggle.
Like the Railrunner or US 550, New Mexico has saddled the taxpayers with white elephants that don’t necessarily provide sufficient bang for the bucks extracted. I am not convinced US 550 has created the economic windfall or increased safety as Gary Johnson et al advertised. Bill Richardson’s white elephant, the Railrunner, has been a money sink due to the bad idea of putting a mass transit system where there is not a mass of people to support it nor does it make sense from a start to destination perspective. A transportation board colleague of mine once took transit from Los Alamos to Albuquerque and back. He left in the early morning and missed dinner. Look up my Honolulu Reason Foundation buddy Cliff Slater’s comments on trains if you want to weep. Now the Spaceport. Its a case of throwing good money after bad rather than admitting defeat.
None of these projects puts more enduring good jobs or private enterprise in this state in meaningful quantities. Which means the massive IOUs that fund these boondoggles extract wealth from, rather than add wealth to, the community.