ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Operations are ramping up at Spaceport America in New Mexico, and the executive director told lawmakers Monday that he needs an additional $2 million in annual funding to keep the momentum going.

Scott McLaughlin testified before a legislative science and technology committee. Without the funding, he warned that he would have to cut staff and limit operations at the desert outpost to just five days a week. Now, the spaceport operates around the clock based on customers’ needs.

The current budget is around $10 million, with about 60% of that coming from customers such as anchor tenant Virgin Galactic, which reached the edge of space over the summer with billionaire Richard Branson aboard its winged rocket ship.

McLaughlin told lawmakers that the goal is to grow revenue and that the return on investment will be jobs for the southern New Mexico economy. He pointed to about 460 direct and indirect jobs that stem from activity at the spaceport, saying that activity results in an estimated $2 million in taxes that are returned to the state.

The extra money being requested “would stabilize us and get us to a point where we just could grow and we could service the customers we have and continue to bring in more customers,” McLaughlin said.

Investors will be watching for Virgin Galactic to start up commercial flights in late 2022. McLaughlin said that in 2023 there are expectations of about three flights from the spaceport per month, and that’s expected to bring in more revenue.

Meanwhile, rocket company SpinLaunch recently tested its launch system from the spaceport and has indicated it will return next year for more tests.

McLaughlin said the idea is to sell New Mexico as a “complete ecosystem” that can accommodate the aerospace industry through competitive tax policies and access to researchers at the state’s universities and national laboratories. He told lawmakers that New Mexico doesn’t have to lose customers to California, Texas or Florida.

Spaceport officials also plan to start working on obtaining a re-entry license from federal aviation officials. Aside from vertical and horizontal launches, McLaughlin said that could open up a new avenue for customers.

The New Mexico Legislature will meet in January for a 30-day session focused on the budget. Revenue projections have suggested that the state will likely be flush with cash.

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