Kudos to reporter Andrew Oxford for covering the legal woes of Dumitru Popescu. The founder of ARCA Space Corporation, a Romanian, has been charged with multiple counts of fraud, embezzlement, and forgery by the Securities Division of the New Mexico Regulation & Licensing Department. The allegations cast serious doubt over his company’s ambitious — and highly publicized — “plans to develop rockets and drones as well as a sort of hoverboard.”
In the summer of 2015, state and local pols went bonkers over ARCA’s decision to set up shop at New Mexico State University’s Physical Science Laboratory, located at the Las Cruces International Airport. Nathan Small, then a city councilor and now a member of the legislature, gushed that government working with the private sector was “critical to fostering development in our state.” Mayor Ken Miyagishima squealed that ARCA would help make the Mesilla Valley “the aerospace valley of the United States.” The Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance’s Craig Buchanan called it “a proud day in Las Cruces.”
Corporate welfare was, of course, dutifully offered. State taxpayers were slated to fork over “$500,000 in … funds toward the construction of ARCA’s new facility,” but never supplied the cash, due to ARCA “misreporting existing employees and new hires.” Las Cruces waived “first-year rental costs of office, hangar and showroom space, worth about $60,000.”
The Rio Grande Foundation’s had its eye on ARCA Space since the start. The enterprise has plenty of enthusiasts, but its actual results appear to be rather thin. Oxford’s digging provided some useful details to Popescu doubters. The reporter noted that the accused is neither a rocket scientist nor an aerospace engineer — his degree is in theology. In 2010, the “director of the Romanian Space Agency publicly dismissed Popescu as an amateur whose work was hyped but technologically unimpressive.” And “arrangements for the company to conduct tests” at Spaceport America “appear to have fallen through.”
One online commenter summed the whole mess up quite well: “An Eastern European outfit shows up out [of] nowhere with a bunch of claims for really difficult technology that takes years and big money to develop. What could go wrong?” Another wag was crueler: “NM is gaining itself a reputation for being taken in by space hucksters.”
We didn’t need more evidence that the Land of Enchantment’s pols have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to “public investment” in commercial spaceflight. But alas, we’ve got it.
New Mexico needs to get out of the space “business.” Now.