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Spaceport America’s opportunity extends far beyond space tourism

A launch vehicle for the centrifugal catapault launch technology that will be developed and tested by SpinLaunch at Spaceport America. (Courtesy of Spinlaunch)

A launch vehicle for the centrifugal catapault launch technology that will be developed and tested by SpinLaunch at Spaceport America. (Courtesy of Spinlaunch)

The world is watching New Mexico and anxiously awaiting the launch of commercial space tourism. Sir Richard Branson and his family will launch into space aboard Virgin Galactic from Spaceport America sometime in 2020. We applaud Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and our New Mexico legislators for funding a special appropriation for the New Mexico Tourism Department to host watch events around the state for that inaugural launch.

That day in 2020 will be as exciting a day as July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon with the world watching on their black-and-white television sets. The difference in 2020 will be the entire world will be watching on color television sets, streaming devices and the Internet. What a great day that will be for New Mexico. And beyond the first launch, millions will flock to Spaceport America to experience commercial space tourism firsthand, visiting the Spaceport America visitors and welcome centers and watching future launches.

New Mexico is literally at the forefront of the Space Age 2.0.

What most people don’t realize is how much Spaceport has grown since it opened in 2011. Spaceport America and the tenants located there have doubled their workforce in the last two years, and that number is expected to double again in the next two years.

But there is so much more than commercial space tourism happening at Spaceport America, and that is where the real opportunity lies. The global small satellite industry – manufacturing, testing and launching – is a $400 billion industry. There are currently seven tenants at Spaceport America including Virgin Galactic, Boeing, UP Aerospace, EXOS Aerospace, SpinLaunch, EnergeticX and ABL. All are involved or are planning to be in the small satellite industry in one way or another. Even Virgin Galactic, which has gained international prominence because of Branson and commercial space tourism, is heavily focused on the small satellite industry.

Economic Development – attracting companies to New Mexico and the Spaceport – means jobs for New Mexicans, high-paying jobs from satellite engineers to support teams. There are hundreds of other opportunities for businesses to have contracts for things like janitorial services, uniforms, fuel services and everything in between. Wall Street is investing heavily in the small satellite market. Those sophisticated investors obviously see the growth potential in the industry. We need to seize that opportunity before our neighboring states do. Given all that is already happening, New Mexico has a huge opportunity to be a major player in that market.

There are currently 12 FAA commercial licensed Spaceports in the U.S. with five more proposed. This space is becoming a very competitive space. The biggest competitive states are Florida and California: Florida has three FAA-commercial-licensed spaceports along with the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station; California has one FAA-commercial-licensed spaceport along with Vandenberg Air Force Base. Texas has two FAA-commercial-licensed spaceports and three privately funded spaceports. Colorado has one FAA-commercial-licensed spaceport.

What New Mexico offers that no other spaceport offers is 6,000 square miles of restricted airspace, 300-plus days of great weather and a low chance of weather-related delays, a highly trained and motivated team and the resources and partnerships to custom build anything an aerospace company needs. Additionally, we have an Aerospace-support environment in the entire “Space Valley” – Rio Grande corridor – with our two national labs, the Air Force Research Laboratory and New Space New Mexico.

Now is the time for the Legislature and all of New Mexico to come together – to continue funding needed infrastructure improvements so the New Mexico Spaceport Authority team can succeed in bringing more companies and jobs to Spaceport America.

Dale Dekker is founding principal at Dekker Perich Sabatini architecture firm in Albuquerque. Tom Hutchinson is owner of La Posta de Mesilla restaurant in Mesilla, outside Las Cruces.


A launch vehicle for the centrifugal catapault launch technology that will be developed and tested by SpinLaunch at Spaceport America.

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