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Spaceport America Has Economic Return for New Mexico

Spaceport America is positioned to capitalize on the future, according to an economic impact report that highlights its unique competitive advantages: location and a proven track record of successful launches.

(TNS) — The future of space travel may be commercial, as private industry continues to play a bigger role in rocket and satellite launches.

Spaceport America is well positioned to capitalize on that future, according to a new economic impact report that highlights the Spaceport's unique competitive advantages: location, location, location, and a proven track record of successful launches.

New Mexico has also invested substantial funding into Spaceport America, and the economic impact report gives a snapshot of the return on that investment. The new report, produced by the Center for Border Economic Development and Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University, shows that Spaceport America generated 811 jobs, $138 million in economic output, $60 million in value-added production and $46 million in labor income in 2022.

"You're getting businesses (at Spaceport America) that wouldn't be in New Mexico for other reasons, and so that creates jobs that are high-wage jobs, doing innovative cutting-edge things — and that in and of itself has spill over," said report co-author Kramer Winingham with the Arrowhead Center.

The Spaceport also generated $12.9 million in taxes, which breaks down to $9.2 million in federal taxes and $3.7 million in state taxes. The report did not include money spent by the state of New Mexico, instead measuring changes in output, value-added production, labor income, employment and tax revenue not generated by state funds.

The report identified and attempted to measure three primary sources of economic impact: tenant operations, out-of-state visitor spending, and Spaceport America revenues. The Spaceport's rental revenue was $6 million in 2022, while total revenue without including state funding, was $7.5 million in 2022.


A significant portion of the Spaceport's revenue was generated by tenants.

The Spaceport has five tenants: Virgin Galactic, SpinLaunch, UP Aerospace, AeroVironment and Prismatic. It also has five customers documented in the report: Swift Engineering, C6 Launch Systems, Stratodynamics Inc., White Sands Research and Developers, and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

The Spaceport is always trying to find more tenants, and two new tenants are actively in the process to join the Spaceport, said Francisco Pallares, the Spaceport's director of business development.

"Some of these tenants have locations with other spaceports as well," said Winingham. "But they have to come to Spaceport America for specific things, because other spaceports can't do what Spaceport America does."

Spaceport America offers advantages like restricted airspace, high elevation and consistent weather, he said.

Tenant operations bolstered job creation in Doña Ana and Sierra counties. In Doña Ana County, there were 152 jobs associated with the Spaceport, while in Sierra County, there were 229 jobs.

In 2022, Sierra County also saw a big impact from privately funded construction of new commercial structures. Privately funded construction of new commercial structures generated a $12.3 million direct economic impact in 2022. When added with indirect and induced impacts, construction in Sierra County had a $15.7 million impact in 2022.

Altogether, Sierra County saw a $62.8 million impact from Spaceport America in 2022, while Doña Ana County saw a $58 million impact. Those totals include the impact of visitor spending, tenant employment and Spaceport America revenues.

The rest of New Mexico saw a direct impact of $13 million from the Spaceport. Including induced and indirect impacts, the Spaceport had a combined impact of $17.2 million for the rest of the state, according to the report.

Education and outreach

Education and outreach are part of the Spaceport mission and generate some of the Spaceport's economic impact.

In 2017, the Spaceport began hosting the largest intercollegiate rocket engineering competition for student rocketry teams — the Spaceport America Cup — which brought 1,300 out-of-state rocketeers in 2022.

The Spaceport in 2019 also added new tours that depart from Las Cruces. Between tours that start in Las Cruces and tours that start in Truth or Consequences, there were an average of 3,390 Spaceport visitors per month in 2022.

"They're doing a lot of outreach to students that are showing them this whole industry and these opportunities," Winingham said. "I think that's got benefits that we can't even measure really, in terms of inspiring young kids to get interested in rocketry and space."

Competitive advantages

The report highlights Spaceport America's competitive advantages, many of which center on its location. The Spaceport, near White Sands Missile Range, gives access to 6,000 miles of restricted airspace — making it a good place to take longer duration flights and test out new vehicles.

The report notes that Spaceport America also has excellent weather, access to railroads, low population density, a local population accustomed to rockets and sonic booms, and a record of successful launches with 400 rocket launches.

The Spaceport also has Federal Aviation Administration licenses for vertical and horizontal launches, a unique advantage . Only one other site in the U.S. is licensed for both. The Spaceport does not engage in orbital launches yet.

"There aren't FAA approved vehicles for orbital launches they can launch in an inland environment," Winingham said. "And so that could be significant if a new type of launch platform was developed to do that. You have the elevation advantages, and it would also be a major revenue generator for Spaceport America."

According to the report, the Spaceport also has a competitive risk: lower levels of state funding than other spaceports.

New Mexico was the first state to invest in a commercial spaceport and invested a significant amount of funding. The state invested approximately $200 million in the Spaceport during late Gov. Bill Richardson's administration, said report co-author Christopher Erickson, director of the Center for Border Economic Development.

But in recent years policymakers have pulled back on funding. Between the state and local governments, New Mexico is investing closer to $5 million to $10 million per year in the Spaceport — significantly less than other state governments are investing in competing spaceports, said Erickson.

"If you look at the mid-Atlantic regional spaceport, which is in Virginia, or you look at the Space Florida Launch and Landing Facility that's near Cape Canaveral near the national airports, and those have very, very substantial funding. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been put into those facilities in just the last few years," Erickson said. "What you're seeing is there's been a tremendous amount of expansion in space activity in the last couple of years since 2020."

The total number of rocket launches increased dramatically since 2020. And the number of satellites in orbit have essentially doubled, from 3,256 satellites in 2020 to 6,905 in 2022.

"In 2022, for example, there were 180 successful rocket launches into space and many of those had multiple payloads in them, as compared to 44 in 2021 and in previous years the numbers have been like 10," Erickson said.

Data, not promises

Erickson was a critic of previous economic reports that Spaceport America released.

"Previous studies by the Spaceport of this type have been more, what's going to happen in the future, what's going to happen next year, what's going to happen in the next five years," he said. "This report is the first time we've been able to show, well it's not what's happening next year, it's what's already happened."

While the 24-page report was sponsored by Spaceport America, it was independently produced by the Arrowhead Center. Future reports will be produced on an annual basis to continue documenting the economic impact of the Spaceport.

"We've had a lot of tempered expectations here in the state from the individual citizen," said Spaceport spokesperson Charlie Hurley. "The late Gov. Richardson, rest his soul, had a vision and tried to incorporate that vision as quickly as he could with Sir Richard Branson. I think it took a little bit longer than everybody thought it would, because the reality is traveling to space ... it's a monumentally difficult thing to do. I think that we've all been partners along this journey, and now we're seeing it finally, no pun intended, we're finally seeing it take off."

© 2023 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.