Ten years ago, New Mexico officials unveiled plans for the world’s first commercial spaceport. Soon after, British billionaire Richard Branson announced that it would be his “spaceline,” Virgin Galactic, that would take paying customers into space. But a decade later, residents of the quirky desert town of Truth or Consequences, N.M., are still waiting.
Originally Virgin Galactic flights were supposed to start in 2012. But a series of setbacks, including the loss of one of its test rockets and a pilot over the Mojave Desert last year, have now pushed the first flights toward the end of 2016 at the earliest.
That hasn’t dampened would-be space travelers’ excitement. More than 700 people have put down deposits on tickets that go for $250,000 a pop. That’s good news for T or C, as the town is locally known. The spaceport could be a huge economic boon for the city of about 6,300, which sits just 30 miles southeast of the now-completed $209 million taxpayer-funded site. Until now, T or C’s main attraction has been hot springs.
But the spaceport is also a big gamble. In anticipation of the site, there has been some limited outside investment: CNN founder Ted Turner bought a resort in the middle of town. Other than that, investors are playing a game of wait and see, according to city leaders.
For its part, Virgin Galactic is at work on another spaceship. Once completed, flight-testing will resume and, if all goes according to plan, the spaceline will eventually take well-heeled passengers into suborbital space for 15 minutes. With each flight, the state will make a fee -- a long-awaited return on its investment.