The Troubled Future of the World's First Commercial Spaceport

By Darren Orf on at

Completed in October 2011, Spaceport America is an 18,000 acre commercial spaceport—the first of its kind in the world—that was going to be a major hub for SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, as each company toils away on developing the future of private spaceflight. It's been more than three years since opening, and New Mexico is still waiting for the payoff.

And it seems some in New Mexico's state legislature are running out of patience. Late last week, a proposal passed through the state senate that New Mexico should consider selling off what many believe to be a £142 million burden. Here's what one US senator had to say on the possible sale, according to AP:

"I'm beginning to fear that the spaceport is a white elephant that was given to us by a former governor and an international billionaire, and if we're not careful, all our hay is going to be eaten."

The international billionaire supposedly interested in New Mexico's hay is Richard Branson, whose Virgin Galactic space outfit was supposed to be a major partner of the spaceport. But that partnership has been steadily delayed year after year, and right when things seems to be edging closer to Virgin Galactic's arrival in New Mexico, SpaceShipTwo crashed in late October, pushing back VG's arrival even further.

Because of its delayed space business, the spaceport has found other, more creative means to keep the lights on. The picture up above is actually an image taken during a press junket for Will Smith's (terrible) After Earth movie. Kawasaki also took advantage of the spaceport's two-mile runway for an advert featuring a new Ninja.

So did Land Rover.

A glorified advert set is not exactly the grand vision the state had planned.

But Spaceport America also has myriad supporters, people who think the state really needs to stay the course. One editorial, penned by the Albuquerque Journal, says finding a buyer for a one-of-a-kind spaceport would be near impossible and there isn't any other spaceport they can easily market it against. The Journal also says that the damage may have already been done by even considering a proposal that would sell the spaceport for fear that it shows that New Mexico is not willing to support commercial spaceflight.

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority executive director also claims the spaceport is nearly self-sufficient with leases signed by SpaceX and Up Aerospace and that Virgin Galactic should be launching by the end of the year. Of course, that date is not set in stone. [AP]

Image via Mark Davis/Getty Images