Editor: Some writers and elected officials have extolled the virtues of spaceports as if they were general manufacturing industries producing industrial or consumer products. Apparently, they have little knowledge of the "typical" spaceport. History proves that unless it is a NASA spaceport, taxpayers will be paying for decades for a project that never produces even the smallest fraction of the promised jobs and prosperity.
The following is a true spaceport story.
Midland, Texas’ Development Authority thought that investing in a spaceport would be a great idea. An up-and-coming space company named XCOR wanted to relocate from California. It would only take millions of economic development dollars and a spaceport license from the FAA.
The plan would bring space tourism to their city and prosperity for all. XCOR and the politicians easily sold it to trusting citizens.
Andrew Nelson was XCOR’s chief operating officer. XCOR was building a 2-seat rocket-plane that would soon whisk tourists to the edge of space for only $75,000 a ride. They claimed hundreds of had already bought tickets.
But XCOR really didn’t have a rocket-plane. They were trying but were not yet in the experimental flight stage. However, Nelson continued selling tickets and talking to governments worldwide that dreamed of being in the space business.
XCOR’s deal with an eager Midland took a mere $10 million investment by the taxpayers. Nelson signed the contract for XCOR promising to create $12 million in annual salaries with a minimum pay of $9 per hour. The same deal benefited XCOR with a $1 a year, 10-year lease.
Last year XCOR stopped work on the Lynx and laid-off half of its workers. Finally, two weeks ago, XCOR fired the rest.
An associated company, Orbital Outfitters that was going to make XCOR’s spacesuits, also received $7 million in incentives from Midland, but they have never even gotten their webpage going. No jobs for Midland here, either.
The outcome is that Midland taxpayers invested $10 million in XCOR’s adventure even though XCOR had never launched a rocket to space. Taxpayers have paid for a spaceport with no active space tenant, no revenues, no jobs, and no prospects. The space tourists remain grounded.
Mr. Nelson left XCOR two years ago and shortly after, Camden County named him as Spaceport Camden’s self-professed "space subject matter expert." So far, Camden’s Commissioners have paid him about $400,000 for his expert spaceport advice. Is Camden going to benefit from Nelson’s advice just like Midland did?
Think this story is the exception? Ask the taxpayers near Spaceport America or Kodiak Spaceport or Oklahoma Spaceport about their starving, jobless spaceports. Would they like their money back?