State and county betting on the job creation prowess of experimental SpinLaunch

by Kathleen Sloan | January 25, 2021
14 min read
A 2020 Wired Magazine story on SpinLaunch offered this vivid explanation of the company’s still-to-be proven launch technology: “A centrifuge large enough to contain a football field will whip a rocket around in circles for roughly an hour, its speed steadily ramping up to more than 5,000 mph. The vehicle and its payload—up to 200 pounds’ worth of satellite—will experience forces that, at their peak, will be ten thousand times stronger than gravity. Once it’s spinning at launch speed, the centrifuge will release the rocket and send it screaming into the stratosphere. At the threshold of the cosmos, it will fire its engine for a final nudge into orbit.”

The State of New Mexico and Sierra County believe SpinLaunch’s rocket-launching system using centrifugal force will be proven successful, evidenced by the county commission’s approval at its Jan. 19 meeting of the state’s $4 million economic development deal with the California-based start-up company.

The county’s contribution is administrative, not financial. The New Mexico Economic Development Department will provide public support out of state funding. The county’s participation falls under the state Local Economic Development Act, which requires local government endorsement of local economic development projects. The LEDA deal approved last week will reimburse SpinLaunch’s engineering, design and construction costs up to $4 million, including the construction of a test centrifuge at Spaceport America.

If SpinLaunch can perfect a centrifuge that hurls a rocket through the first 65 miles of atmosphere, it will eliminate the need to expend tons of rocket fuel, reducing satellite-launch costs from about $10 million to $500,000 and permit frequent launches, according to SpinLaunch founder Jonathan Yaney.

Yaney, who describes himself on his LinkedIn profile as a “is a 1,000+ hour pilot and serial entrepreneur with 15 years experience founding companies in Fortune 500 consulting, IT, construction, and aerospace industries,” laid out these potential competitive advantages in a Jan. 29, 2020, Wired Magazine article. Wired’s examination of the company’s history, experimental technology and business strategy that can be read in its entirety here 

At the county commission’s Jan. 19 meeting, Sierra County Manager Bruce Swingle claimed the county held a public hearing on the SpinLaunch deal at the previous month’s commission meeting. But no public hearing was noticed on the Dec. 15 agenda and, as a result, no public testimony was received. There was also no explanation for the unusual step of separating the public hearing from the county commission’s final decision on the participation agreement, which was on the Jan. 19 agenda.

County Commission Vice Chairperson Travis Day said the county has always supported the Spaceport and should continue to do so, because its commercial success means greater economic success for the county. County Commission Chairperson Jim Paxon’s comments echoed Day’s. There was no analysis or questioning of the economic development agreement itself.

At neither county commission meeting was it discussed or acknowledged that SpinLaunch’s use of the Spaceport will be mostly limited to testing and employee training. Even if the company’s kinetic launch technology ultimately works—a big “if,” according to aerospace engineers interviewed by Wired Magazine—commercial launches will not take place at the Spaceport but on the coast for safety reasons.


As with most of the state’s local economic development deals, SpinLaunch’s is predicated on job creation. In exchange for state reimbursement of the company’s costs to put in permanent infrastructure at the Spaceport, SpinLaunch must create about 100 jobs over 10 years.

The company is to have 53 people on the payroll by Dec. 31, 2021, and 75 by Dec. 31, 2022. Hiring goals diminish in subsequent years, with 100 to be hired by Dec. 31, 2029.

As no salary or benefit minimums are specified in the deal, there is nothing to prevent a revolving door of trainees paid from $10 to $20 an hour from fulfilling the hiring requirements. There is a restriction that new hires must have lived in the state at least one year.

SpinLaunch and NMEDD confirm the company is recruiting employees from state colleges. In a separate deal unrelated to the $4 million agreement signed by the county, NMEDD will subsidize the salaries of SpinLaunch employees who are provided training.

If the Spaceport site is primarily a training ground, with employees eventually headed to coastal jobs, where small satellite launch sites must be located, the trickle-down economic benefits of their short-term presence in Sierra County, such as home acquisitions and greater gross receipts tax revenues from the purchase of local goods and services, may be less than anticipated.

The LEDA agreement is predicated on SpinLaunch’s staying at the Spaceport for 10 years. If it departs before Dec. 31, 2025, the state can “claw back” all of the money reimbursed to the company, up to $4 million. In that case, SpinLaunch would essentially have been given an interest-free loan and the Spaceport would be left with a centrifuge with test capability, but limited commercial value. 

There is little chance the company will build a centrifuge at the Spaceport large enough to launch rockets that can place commercial satellites in low-orbit space. Rockets that fall to earth after launch, shedding hardware by stages, are currently restricted to coastlines so that the debris falls into the ocean, where it does not pose a threat to civilian populations. Therefore, SpinLaunch can use the Spaceport only for testing, limiting the economic returns to the state and county and the long-term growth of the test site the state’s taxpayers have helped to develop.


After consulting NMEDD’s economic analysts, Public Information Officer Bruce Krasnow conveyed the department’s response to the Sun’s questions about SpinLaunch’s ability to generate enough economic benefit to warrant public support.

Testing and development at the SpinLaunch site will go on for years, NMEDD asserted.

“Because of Spaceport America’s unique range capabilities, SpinLaunch anticipates continuing to utilize its suborbital test site for activities beyond the development of its first-generation launch system. Over the next 10 to 20 years, SpinLaunch will use its site to develop next-generation launch systems. The site will also be used to support several other continuous test and development activities unrelated to launch systems,” NMEDD stated.

“The technology also allows for other types of testing, including for hypersonic materials research,” NMEDD explained.

“The state investment and SpinLaunch’s decision to locate at the Spaceport in Sierra County has already brought significant positive attention to New Mexico as a place for satellite, aerospace and engineering innovation. The partnerships the company is establishing with New Mexico Tech and NMSU will yield benefits for graduates who want to work in this field and for enrolled students who want to pursue hands-on internship experiences. 

“Spaceport America is now nurturing a cluster of high-tech innovative companies and this is a positive message for the state as we work to create higher paying jobs and diversify our economy.  

“SpinLaunch has already invested over $38 million into its Spaceport America flight test site to date. The company’s current employment level represents 1.5 percent of the Sierra County’s total workforce,” NMEDD stated.  


According to NMEDD, SpinLaunch has been paying about $10,000 a month since May 2019 for land leased on the outskirts of Spaceport America in the “Advanced Technology Area,” miles from Virgin Galactic’s main terminal and hanger. Its lease is partially subsidized through a separate deal with NMEDD, which provides “graduated incentive payments that depend on its pace of launch and development.”

NMEDD reports SpinLaunch has invested $38 million in the test site to date, without providing a breakdown. A partial accounting can be pieced together from multiple sources. According to a recent Los Alamos Daily Post article, SpinLaunch has built a 10,000 square-foot “Integration Facility/Mission Control” building.  A photograph accompanying the article shows a prefabricated metal building. 

SpinLaunch's Integration/Mission Control building
SpinLaunch reports it has invested $38 million in its Spaceport operation. Its Mission Control center is a prefab metal building, and employees who live on-site are housed in modified freight containers. Source: SpinLaunch

Employee accommodations are even less expensive. Spaceport Interim Executive Director Scott McLaughlin said at the Dec. 15 county commission meeting that “30 to 40” employees were living and/or working on-site. Freight containers have been modified into living quarters, a game room and gym. Outside are a fire pit, hot tubs and archery range. Meals are provided by an on-site chef.

McLaughlin also reported at the December meeting that 59 more employees were soon to be hired. The list of employment opportunities on the SpinLaunch website, checked Jan. 19, advertised a single position at the Spaceport—a “sous chef.”

NMEDD offered the following explanation in response to the Sun’s questions about employee recruitment and housing: “While SpinLaunch does have accommodations for some staff on-site, SpinLaunch activities have resulted in approximately 30 members of its staff renting property off-site in Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces. The majority of New Mexico-based positions filled were not listed on the company website, or have since been taken down after being filled. For members of SpinLaunch that are located on-site during the week, in-town merchants and services are still regularly utilized.”

“As SpinLaunch shifts from construction to operation of its suborbital flight facility,” NMEDD elaborated, “it expects to hire more engineers, technicians, and other highly paid workers to support operational activities.”

Salaries are being partially reimbursed by the state in concurrent and separate deals between NMEDD and SpinLaunch. Under its “Job Training Incentive Program,” NMEDD will reimburse 75 percent of SpinLaunch’s employee salaries for up to the first six months, in exchange for SpinLaunch’s provision of employee training. Eligible salaries range from $10.63 to $15.13 an hour. NMEDD said it has made two such JTIP deals with SpinLaunch so far, but provided no other details.


The county’s duties in the “Project Participation Agreement” are to collect receipts documenting SpinLaunch’s requests for reimbursement for allowed expenses and employment reports verifying SpinLaunch is meeting employment goals.

The agreement states SpinLaunch expects to invest $45.5 million at the Spaceport over the course of ten years for “acquisition of building, equipment, tangible personal property and services associated with the construction and equipping of the property.” There is no requirement, however, that the company must invest that amount. If it doesn’t, it “will not constitute a breach of this agreement.”

But SpinLaunch must meet four employment goals and other milestones to get reimbursed in $1 million tranches for “LEDA (Local Economic Development Act) eligible expenses.”

These expenses include, but are not limited to: “land, building and infrastructure, including permanently installed and situated physical assets and the design, labor and permitting required to put them in place. Examples include, but are not limited to: foundation, drainage, improvements, electrical wiring, architecture fees, insulation, landscaping and equipment rentals for construction.”

Expenses incurred prior to signing of the LEDA deal are not eligible for reimbursement. Neither are lease payments or equipment purchases.

The first $1 million reimbursement tranche requires SpinLaunch to have obtained a certificate of occupancy for the Integration/Mission Control building. The company must show three consecutive months of payroll for at least 55 employees who had lived in New Mexico for at least one year when they were hired.

The second $1 million reimbursement tranche requires SpinLaunch to have executed its first suborbital launch. The company must show three consecutive months of payroll for at least 78 employees who had lived in New Mexico for at least one year when they were hired.

The third $1 million reimbursement tranche requires SpinLaunch to have hired 88 New Mexican residents who have been on the payroll for three consecutive months.

The fourth $1 million reimbursement tranche requires SpinLaunch to have hired 98 New Mexicans who have been on the payroll for three consecutive months.


There are “claw-back” provisions in the LEDA deal to protect the public purse. SpinLaunch must put up “security” for the full $4 million until December 2025. If it leaves the Spaceport before then, it must pay back 100 percent of the money reimbursed for LEDA eligible expenses.

The claw back is reduced to a maximum 75 percent return of monies reimbursed if Spinlaunch leaves in the fifth, sixth or seventh years of operation and to 50 percent if the company departs in the ninth or 10th years of operation.

The state may also claw back money if the company doesn’t meet its employment goals. For example, if only 80 percent of the required number of employees have been hired by the stated deadline, the claw back would be 20 percent of state money disbursed. The deal gives SpinLaunch half a year to “cure” any such employment issues.


When completed, the SpinLaunch centrifuge at the Spaceport will be “capable of flights in excess of 100km (about 62 miles) in altitude,” according to Winnie Lai, the company’s vice president of business and product development. “The current suborbital test site project will launch a variety of projectiles and test vehicles,” Lai stated in a Jan. 22 email to the Sun. “Test vehicles will include satellite and rocket components and subsystems, but SpinLaunch will not launch into orbit from Spaceport America. The test vehicles will land both near Spaceport and inside White Sands Missile Range property, depending on the trajectory required for a specific mission.” 

This is the second centrifuge SpinLaunch has built. The first was a 40-foot-wide centrifuge located in Long Beach, Calif. The Spaceport’s will be 100 feet in diameter, according to Wired Magazine.

The first centrifuge was capable of accelerating an 11-pound object to speeds of up to 4,000 miles an hour, the tethering arm sending it crashing against a steel wall. Aerospace engineers interviewed by Wired expressed doubt that rockets or electronic components could survive centrifugal forces 10,000 times greater than gravity. SpinLaunch founder Yaney told Wired they had accelerated a variety of electronic equipment inside the centrifuge, including an iPhone, which Yaney used to make a call afterward, but, in a correction to the article, Wired stated the centrifuge didn’t get the iPhone up to 4,000 miles per hour.

SpinLaunch's first orbital rocket
Independent aerospace engineers have expressed doubts whether rockets, such as the prototype pictured here at the company’s California headquarters, and their electronic payloads can survive acceleration forces, which can be up to 10,000 times greater than gravity. Source: SpinLaunch

Even at 100 feet wide, the Spaceport centrifuge is still an experimental size, according to Wired. It will be capable of hurling “projectiles up to 110 pounds.”

SpinLaunch estimates a 300-foot-wide centrifuge will be needed to launch “an SUV-sized rocket,” weighing “thousands of pounds” into space, with a 200-pound payload/satellite inside, Wired said.

The company’s end goal, Wired said, is to devise a centrifuge with a tethering arm holding the rocket, which, when released, will travel at 5,000 miles an hour to a height of about 65 miles. Engine boosters will then burn about one minute to increase the rocket’s speed to about 17,500 miles an hour, which will send it to the “edge of space,” 100 miles up. A second 10-second burn, Wired stated, “helps the rocket slide into orbit around Earth.”


Although NMEDD appears to be comfortable supporting SpinLaunch’s next 10 years of testing and training to get its centrifugal launching system to market, the market leaders are being chosen and decided much sooner. 

SpaceX is the undisputed leader in the “smallsat” industry that SpinLaunch is seeking to enter, “disrupting” and changing the market, Janice Starzyk, vice president of commercial space at the market research firm Bryce Space and Technology, observed in an August 2020 interview with SpaceNews.

SpaceX announced its “SmallSat Rideshare Program” in 2019. Yesterday, a Space X rocket with 143 spacecraft and satellites on board lofted the payload into orbit from Cape Canaveral, earning accolades as the “biggest carpool to space” from The, a technology news website.

SpaceX liftoff from Cape Canaveral Jan. 24, 2021
Yesterday, Jan. 24, a SpaceX rocket successfully propelled 143 small satellites and spacecraft into space from Cape Canaveral. Analysts believe SpaceX’s “rideshare” program will likely disrupt the American smallsat segment of the global space launch services industry in which SpinLaunch aspires to compete. Market leaders will reap the rewards of the tremendous growth expected for the entire industry, which Fortune Business Insights predicts will grow from $12.7 billion in 2019 to $26.2 billion in 2027. Source: SpaceX

SpaceX is charging $2.5 million per rideshare for objects weighing up to 330 pounds and in the future will offer launches every two weeks. Starzyk pointed out other smallsat launchers cannot yet compete with SpaceX’s schedule or price. 

The federal government will play a part in picking winners and losers among the smallsat launch companies, because it has special needs related to national security, Starzyk said. In June 2019 SpinLaunch landed a Department Defense contract for an undisclosed amount to develop its centrifuge launching system, according to SpaceNews reporting at the time.

Since its founding in 2014, SpinLaunch has raised $80 million from private investors who believe that the company will ultimately be able to launch smallsat payloads at a lower cost and higher frequency than its competitors, according to a Jan. 5 article in SpaceNews.

At an expected price of $500,000 for a 200-pound payload, SpinLaunch’s still-unproven services would be one third the cost per payload pound SpaceX is offering now. Will that still be a competitive advantage in as long as 10 years’ time? 

Research assistance by Linda King

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

1 thought on “State and county betting on the job creation prowess of experimental SpinLaunch”

  1. Vincent Gutschick

    I analyzed the physics of SpinLaunch over a year ago. It is impossible for any vehicle to survive the transverse centrifugal forces, at least, any vehicle that still has to run a fragile engine to reach orbit. Also, the aerodynamic pressure on the vehicle as it leaves the tube is crushing. Why do you think that the Shuttle, the Falcon rocket, the Ariane and other rockets throttle back power in the upper atmosphere?

    SpinLaunch is a transparent scam, transparent to anyone with the tiniest knowledge of physics. I filed a complaint with the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor. Antonio Corrales responded but said that it’s up to the New Mexico Economic Development Department. Note that Google and Airbus have some investment in SpinLaunch. This shows that MBAs with a knowledge of economics but less than zero grasp of physics are culpably ignorant of what’s good for their companies.

    I invite anyone to read my post at

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