TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. (KRQE) – Virgin Galactic’s announcement Wednesday that it will lay off 18% of its workers and pause spaceflights next year has some people worried about the future of Spaceport America.
It has some state lawmakers saying, I told you so. “Something I’ve been saying was likely for well over five years. The business model was not paying dividends, the stock price had collapsed. There was not a business model or business plan that looked viable,” said Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces)
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Executive Director of Spaceport America Scott McLaughlin is urging patience, “It all makes sense when you look at what they’re trying to do, in trying to get to very consistent and regular operations. So I don’t like that there’s a pause, we’ve had those in the past, but they did go to space six times this year.”
McLaughlin insists the pause in flights won’t reduce Virgin Galactic’s lease payments to Spaceport America which runs through 2033. McLaughlin said the latest numbers show that since the start of 2022, Spaceport America has created more than 800 jobs and brought $60M of new money to the region.
New Mexico taxpayers however have spent far more on its bet on space tourism.”It’s been a struggle. About a 15-20 year struggle with them to figure out how we’re going to make this spaceport successful. We spent a lot of money… probably over 300 million dollars in that spaceport,” said Sen. George Muñoz (D-Gallup).
“I understand that, I’m a taxpayer too, I would have like for things to have gone faster but we’re also in an incredibly fast-moving market now in commercial aerospace,” said McLaughlin.
Even as Virgin Galactic ramps down flights, McLaughlin insisted that New Mexico is perfectly positioned for the relaunch. “Space and commercial space is booming and New Mexico can be a major player in that, and that is something that, without the Spaceport, we’d have no chance. I really hope the taxpayers and the legislators will stick with us. They need to look at that broader market and realize that New Mexico is doing something incredible at the right place at the right time,” said McLaughlin.
There is also concern that Virgin Galactic might leave Spaceport America as its business grows. McLaughlin said the company has already invested in Federal Aviation Administration and environmental clearances at the Spacport and it would be expensive to start over somewhere else.