LAS CRUCES — Spaceport America released a fiscal 2015 budget this week that pushes back its estimates for when Virgin Galactic may begin its flights and when the visitor’s center will open.
The budget assumes Virgin Galactic will start flying by August 2014, about six months later than previously expected. Spaceport America Executive Director Christine Anderson said the assumptions are strictly for budgeting and do not reflect Virgin Galactic plans.
Virgin Galactic Chief Executive George Whitesides said the company has not publicly disclosed its timeline for commercial launches of passenger flights.
“We’re working our tails off to start commercial operations in 2014 from Spaceport America,” he said. “We still have some work to do, but we’re making good progress.”
Spaceport America’s budget is still in the “pre-operations” phase, Anderson said in Tuesday. The spaceport is funding about 75 percent of its $1.85 million operating budget, including salaries, with revenue. Another $459,000 comes from taxpayer funding and covers the remaining 25 percent.
The Legislature authorized $225 million in funding in 2007, and the spaceport has spent $212 million.
“We have not blown that budget,” Anderson said.
However, the unpredictable nature of Virgin’s plans — and with it, uncertainty over when they will pay for every commercial launch— means Spaceport America will continue to wrestle with budgetary constraints.
The spaceport’s “visitor’s experience,” which will include two visitors’ center facilities, also is delayed. After a request for proposals didn’t turn up any viable offers, Anderson says the Spaceport has decided to seek a $20 million loan.
Meanwhile, another expense lies around the bend: a $15 million southern road that would link the spaceport to Las Cruces. That wasn’t part of the state’s original appropriation.
Spaceport America already has set aside $8.1 million for the first phase of construction but plans to ask the Legislature for $6.9 million to complete it.
To increase revenue, the spaceport needs its two tenants, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX, to be flying regularly and the visitors’ center to be open. Virgin Galatic is testing its vehicle at high altitude.
In the meantime, Anderson said, “you have to make an educated estimate and that’s what we do. In the end, though, it’s an estimate. We’re not in a stable industry.”
By Lauren Villagran / Journal Staff Writer – Las Cruces Bureau
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