What’s next for Spaceport America?

[anvplayer video=”5188472″ station=”998122″]

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. — Southern New Mexico is one of the world’s few gateways into space.

On Thursday, Virgin Galactic launched another historic space tourism flight – the first with paying, civilian customers. The company is the largest tenant at Spaceport America, which has had hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars supporting it.

Scott McLaughlin, Spaceport America’s executive director, says the facility is eyeing lots of expansion.

“Space tourism is only part of what Spaceport America is about,” McLaughlin said. “Virgin Galactic is our first customer, but the real goal is to bring in other customers, create more jobs.”

Right now, there are six groups paying for space and doing regular tests and operations. McLaughlin says they hope to have a few more by early next year.

There are 850 jobs directly or indirectly tied to the Spaceport. Many of those workers live in Las Cruces.

More Virgin Galactic flights will add to that, and McLaughlin says he hopes to get that number into the thousands in the next five years.

“What we’re really focused on is something we’re calling Space Valley,” he said. “Creating an entire aerospace ecosystem from Los Alamos to El Paso, which has design, research, operations, tests.”

The Spaceport is also working on a master plan to cover goals for the next 10 to 15 years. That will include everything from construction and roads to jobs and the types of spaceflights they have.

“The Spaceport gives an opportunity to do something we couldn’t do otherwise,” McLaughlin said. “Without the Spaceport, New Mexico would be going along the same path we have – depending on oil money, agriculture, but with the Spaceport, we can develop something entirely new.”

McLaughlin says the new industry has the potential to be just as important as the oil and gas industry.

“Not only that, when you look at what’s happening in commercial space, this is like the beginning of the dot-com era,” he said. “This is blowing up. There are up to five space stations being designed right now. We’re going back to the moon. There’s all kinds of activities in orbit. New Mexico is in the right place at the right time.”

At Thursday’s launch, mostly workers, friends, and family watched Galactic 02 lift off. The public can come to watch flights without going through security, but there’s only a parking lot.

McLaughlin says they will work on the accommodations and getting people closer. He pointed out that Elephant Butte is also a nice place to watch the moment the spaceship separates and launches upward.

McLaughlin adds that they don’t want to build a hotel too close, because of the risky operations they sometimes carry out.