County Administrator Steve Howard and Chairman Jimmy Starline have danced around the economic risks posed by Spaceport Camden. As the project has dragged out, it becomes clearer that there’s no business plan because there are no companies capable of supporting the spaceport.
New evidence emerged this week proving the space industry has no interest in supporting Spaceport Camden.
Spaceport America in New Mexico settled a lawsuit which demanded they provide unredacted copies of all leases they had signed with rocket companies. Spaceport America had refused to reveal contract details, a violation of state law. In addition to space tourism operator Virgin Galactic, four rocket launch companies had signed leases with Spaceport America. The largest lease is with SpaceX. Energeticx.Net, EXOS Aerospace, and UP Aerospace round out the four. You can read the leases HERE.
The following is a summary of their economic impact:
Energeticx agreed to a ground lease payment of $1,500.00 per month commencing when they built facilities at the spaceport and requiring that they launch at least once every 24 months. The company never developed a rocket and appears to be defunct.
EXOS Aerospace agreed to a ground lease of $2,500.00 per month. EXOS has attempted several test launches at Spaceport America. The latest test flight in June 2019 flight failed seconds into the flight due to loss of control. EXOS has never reached planned altitude on any launch.
UP Aerospace pays $250.00 per month ground lease. Additional charges are incurred as spaceport resource user-fees. UP has launched 12 sub-orbital rockets since 2007.
SpaceX agreed to pay $3,651.00 per month ground lease. They also agreed to pay a user fee of $25,000.00 per launch, but they never conducted any launches.
Virgin Galactic pays the real freight at Spaceport America. The more than $220,000,000 originally invested by New Mexico in the spaceport was to entice Richard Branson to locate his spaceplane tourism operations there. Taxpayers have been subsidizing the spaceport since 2005 since Branson’s operations are years and years late. He was to have flown his 50,000th space tourist in 2019. He has flown none. And by 2020, the spaceport was supposed to be the anchor of a large aerospace cluster generating $552 million in total revenues and employing 4,320 people. Hasn’t happened. (source: New Mexico Commercial Spaceport Economic Impact Study for State of New Mexico Economic Development Department, December 30, 2005)
The total monthly income from the rocket companies at Spaceport America was $7,901.00. Spaceport Camden spends $8,000.00 a month for its PR guy, John Simpson, and at least $11,000.00 a month for its spaceport consultant, Andrew Nelson. And that’s before we pay for FAA licensing, the property, spaceport buildout, 24/7 security, insurance, mowing, and lawsuits. Wallops MARS spaceport requires at least 20 firefighters and five firetrucks on-site for every launch, and they don’t have to protect offshore islands, too.
Opponents have long understood that Spaceport Camden would, at best, be a loss-leader. Howard has even told us he didn’t care if the spaceport never launched a rocket as long as we benefited from the hundreds and thousands of jobs the spaceport was sure to create. Spaceport America’s chief financial officer, Zach De Gregorio, said during a deposition in 2019 that he factored no documents into a 2016 analysis where he claimed the spaceport created $20.8 million of positive economic impact in New Mexico. De Gregorio said under oath that there was nothing to provide to support his claims. He said he took no notes while interviewing business owners and didn’t look at any documents to gather data. He characterized the analysis as his “best guess” of the impact based on his “professional judgment,” saying, “I think there’s value in that.” (source: NMpolitics.net)
Camden’s documentary releases of economic benefits and safety analyses have been based on the same type of talented “professional judgment.” Camden refuses to provide the evidence to support their economic and safety claims.
Camden Taxpayers should think of the spaceport this way:
We’ve been told that the $8 million spent so far is an “investment” in Camden’s future. If Camden applied the entire monthly income from rocket companies at Spaceport America towards repaying taxpayers’ “investment,” it will take 84 years!
Only a politician protecting his prior bad decisions could think that is a good “investment.”