Tourism and spaceport officials have estimated as many as 200,000 people a year will visit the first-of-its kind center. And officials promised it would spur economic development and bring high-paying jobs to the mostly rural state.

But other space companies have passed New Mexico over and there is growing skepticism about whether Virgin, which has pushed its estimated date for starting flights from 2011 to 2014, will ever move into the spaceport.

A provision in the development agreement prohibiting it from operating its aircraft at competing spaceports without permission expires at the end of the month.

Investors from Abu Dhabi have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to help Virgin Galactic develop its spacecraft.

Due to delays in both the construction of Spaceport America and development of Virgin's spacecraft, the company has yet to begin paying rent on the facility, which is located in remote southern New Mexico, about 45 miles from Las Cruces and 200 miles from Albuquerque.

When asked for copies of the quarterly business plans Virgin Galactic is supposed to submit to the state, officials with the state economic development said those updates were given orally to Anderson.

Anderson and state Economic Development Secretary Jon Barela said they expect the company to begin paying rent next month.

Virgin Galactic President and CEO George Whitesides was less specific and noted the company, which is testing its spacecraft in the Mojave Desert, has an office in Las Cruces and will move to Spaceport America "when the Spaceport Authority finishes the level of the work that it has agreed to provide on our building."

Whitesides denied news reports that quoted him as saying Virgin might leave if lawmakers for a third year in a row refuse to approve exemptions for parts suppliers from being sued for liability by any passengers on spacecraft launched from New Mexico. But he also didn't rule it out.

He said that it was "very concerning" that companies were not coming to the spaceport. The company, he said, signed up for a "healthy spaceport" with multiple businesses that could divide the costs. Whitesides said Virgin Galactic would work with lawmakers, and then reevaluate.

New Mexico has exempted spacecraft operators from liability lawsuits from passengers, but competing states have also extended that exemption to parts suppliers.

Virgin Galactic officials "have not told me that they are going to leave if they do not get this done," Barela said. "By the same token, I can assure you they are getting calls constantly from other states saying, 'New Mexico hasn't passed the law and we can get you a better deal.'"

In Sierra County, one of three counties that implemented a special tax to help develop spaceport infrastructure, some remain optimistic about project.

"I think Richard Branson is not where he is by luck," said Gary Whitehead, a car dealer in Truth or Consequences and a former Spaceport Authority board member, adding that he feels encouraged because of Branson's history of success.

Rancher Jim Taylor, however, calls the project a "terrible, terrible rip-off."

"Some people are concerned that Virgin might leave, conversely some wish it would all just go away," he said. "Maybe they could convert the 'hangar' into a concert hall for 'Woodstock West' or something that would actually generate money."