During an aerospace update luncheon with the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, a panel made up of Debbi Moore, Chamber President & CEO; Jason Lazich, Virgin Galactic director or infrastructure; and Chris Lopez, director of site operations for Spaceport America.
Lazich started off the discussions talking about the recent announcement Virgin Galactic would be taking a pause in flights until 2026. After two Unity flights from Spaceport America in 2024, the company will hold flights until 2026 when the next generation of ships, the Delta class, goes on line.
“The Delta will be able to fly more often,” he said. “Currently we can fly once a month. The Delta class will be able to fly twice a week.”
Lazich also talked about layoffs by the company, 73 of which occurred in New Mexico, reiterating “there was nothing they did wrong.”
Moore said the Chamber and the business community are working with a rapid response team to connect those individuals with jobs.
“This is now their new home, so we need to rally around them,” she said.
Lazich said there are still more than 200 Virgin teammates in Las Cruces who are not just design builders but who provide all the support mechanisms the company has.
Lopez talked about the larger concept of investing in commercial space and the spaceport.
“Why is New Mexico investing in space?” he asked. “We always hear that it’s not a worthy investment.”
He pointed out that investment in “transformational technology” has always received a lot of negativity.
“Have you ever heard about the thing called the horseless carriage?” he said. “Don’t worry about that. Don’t invest in that.”
Then he went on to talk about the calculator, computers, the internet and other industries that drew skepticism in their infancy.
“What if I gave you every library in America in the palm of your hand?” Lopez said. “All those ideas were crazy. But without the computer industry, without the internet industry, a lot of businesses we have today would not be here.”
Lopez discussed the state’s continuing investment in Spaceport America.
“Do we want to be a business enterprise and be able to sustain ourselves?” he asked. “Absolutely. Can you imagine if we asked every airport in the country to do that? They wouldn’t be there. There is not an airport that doesn’t get support from taxes.”
He pointed out that pre-Covid, in 2017 there were fewer than five venture capitalists investing in commercial space and today there are more than 40.
“The return is there,” he said. “I would just ask that rather than being so quick to a knee-jerk reaction saying, ‘because you are not net-margin profitable, let’s get rid of you,’ people realize we also have the business of being accountable to the state which means a lot of rules, public accountability.”
Moore closed the afternoon reminding people the space industry in southern New Mexico supports the economy, bringing people in who spend money, buy homes and participate in the community.
“Both of these organizations (Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America) want to keep our graduates working,” she said.