The National Geographic Channel did a nice program on the building of Spaceport America.

This episode of Megastructures does a good job of conveying the scale of the undertaking. It’s also interesting to see the little town of Hatch, NM. Central Market in Texas is currently holding its annual two-week Hatch Chili Festival. If not for Central Market, most people would never have heard of Hatch.

If successful, Spaceport America will provide new opportunities for many locals. At the same time, however, we must compare the $200+ million being spent on Spaceport America with the $40 million in incentives which Midland, TX is offering to XCOR Aerospace. New Mexico is staking a lot more money. Will Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America be five times as successful as XCOR?

This demonstrates, of course, the cost advantage of an existing airport like Midland International or Mojave over a greenfield site like Spaceport New Mexico. At some point, space commerce may outgrow such mixed-use facilities and New Mexico’s investment will start to look prescient. At the moment, however, no one can predict how soon that day will come.

Written by Astro1 on August 11th, 2012 , Spaceports

Florida and Puerto Rico are competing with Texas for the site of the new SpaceX launch site, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Texas appears to have the inside track, however, according to a statement by CEO Elon Musk as reported by the Associated Press.

Why is Texas leading the race for the SpaceX facility?

José Pérez-Riera, Puerto Rico’s secretary for economic development and commerce, points out that the island commonwealth is closer to the equator than either Cape Canaveral or Brownsville. That would translate into slightly greater lift capacity for SpaceX rockets. SpaceX might also benefit from lower labor costs and the fact that Puerto Rico residents do not pay US income taxes.

On the other hand, a Puerto Rico launch site would come with some political uncertainty. Puerto Rico’s commonwealth status could change in the future if the island opts for either statehood or independence. Statehood would change the tax situation, but independence could be particularly worrisome. As an independent nation, Puerto Rico would be subject to US export controls, requiring ITAR permits for every rocket and payload.

Florida officials have argued that locating a second SpaceX pad in that state would save money by eliminating redundancy in the SpaceX supply chain. Redundancy, however, may be exactly what SpaceX is seeking. Locating all of its launch sites in one geographic area would leave SpaceX vulnerable to a localized natural disaster. The Florida Space Coast is infamously vulnerable to storm surge. In 2004, Hurricane Frances threatened to wipe out the entire Shuttle infrastructure.

Increasing its presence in Texas would also increase SpaceX’s base of political support. There’s also the matter of proximity to Johnson Space Center and the surrounding manned space community. That may be a small consideration at present, since NASA currently plans to make Kennedy Space Center the lead for commercial crew activities. That, too, is a political consideration that could change in the future, however. With Congressional elections every two years, it behooves SpaceX to keep its options open. A Texas launch site would also be a signal to the Florida delegation that they cannot take SpaceX for granted.

 

Written by Astro1 on June 20th, 2012 , Spaceports, SpaceX Tags:

cowboy, horse, and spaceship

Texas may soon have more spaceports than any other state.

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Written by Astro1 on June 14th, 2012 , Armadillo Aerospace, Spaceports, SpaceX Tags:

Interest in commercial spaceports is spreading rapidly as suborbital spacecraft like Armadillo’s Hyperion, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two, and XCOR’s Lynx move closer to flight. Florida continues its attempts to woo suborbital companies to spaceports in Jacksonville and the Kennedy Space Center / Cape Canaveral area. In Texas, there’s talk about establishing a commercial spaceport at Ellington Airport near Houston, in addition to the private spaceport operated by Blue Origin in west Texas and the orbital launch site proposed by SpaceX for south Texas. The latests state to join the race is Colorado, with Governor John Hickenlooper and other state officials backing a proposal to develop Spaceport Colorado at Front Range Airport in Aurora.

This interest is not limited to the United States. Space Expedition Curacao plans to operate an XCOR Lynx from a spaceport in the Caribbean, and Virgin Galactic has a similar deal with a United Arab Emirates group that wants to establish a spaceport in Abu Dhabi.

A new report indicates there is considerable interest in Great Britain as well.

The report, entitled Space: Britain’s New Infrastructure Frontier, was issued by the Institute of Directors and written by Dan Lewis, chief executive of the Economic Policy Centre with input from spaceport consultant Jim Bennett.

According to the report, Britain could develop a spaceport for a fraction of the $200 million being spent on Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Day and Bennett believe that spaceports should be viewed as regional development opportunities, rather than mass transportation facilities like airport. They believe that spaceports will serve as incubators for business and research. To maximize this potential, they say, spaceports should be located near major universities with strong science and engineering departments.

The potential of suborbital science is one of the primary drivers behind this push:

There is huge excitement in the scientific world about the low cost research opportunities that will be opened up by [Virgin Galactic] and XCOR. The Southwest Research Institute has already purchased 6 seats for its researchers to conduct experiments on [Virgin Galactic]  and another six on XCOR along with scientific payloads. Citizens in Space has bought 10 suborbital spaceflights from XCOR. The costs of doing small experiments in space will be dramatically lower and the queue a high factor lower… A spaceport for suborbital craft in the UK opens up quick, cheap and easy access to research for British-based researchers that wasn’t there before. Telescope time above the atmosphere is going to cost $50,000 rather than $10 million for example.

Citizen space exploration (aka space tourism) is not overlooked, either. The report says that a spaceport should be located in an area that would provide a good view of scenery from space, such as one of the existing air bases in Scotland, such as RAF Lossiemouth, or Northern Ireland. Those northern air bases are also considered good sites for satellite launches to polar orbit using upper stages launched from suborbital spacecraft such as Lynx Mark III.

One possible worry, or perhaps opportunity, is the possibility that Scotland might secede from the United Kingdom. If the matter of Scottish secession is not settled before a spaceport is established, it might create regulatory uncertainty for spaceport investors. As a result, the report suggests a possible alternative site on a manmade island in Severn Estuary at the eastern end of the Bristol Channel in southwest England. The site was previously considered for a new commercial airport, Severnside International, which was rejected on grounds of estimated cost (£2 billion). A spaceport can’t justify that price tag, either, but a dual-use facility might.

There is also the possibility that Scotland might secede before the spaceport is built. If that happens, the Scottish government might demand the removal of Royal Air Force bases from Scotland. That would create an opportunity for one of the newly vacant bases to become a dedicated spaceport.

 

Written by Astro1 on May 24th, 2012 , Spaceports

Space Exploration Technologies wants to build a new spaceport in Cameron County, Texas.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation has just filed a notice of intent to begin preparation of an environmental impact statement and hold public hearings on the project. The NOI can be found here.

SpaceX proposes to “launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical launch vehicles from a private site located in Cameron County, Texas.”  If the project is approved, SpaceX will build a vertical launch area and a control center area to support up to 12 commercial launches per year. Up to two launches each year would be Falcon Heavy. The remainder would be Falcon 9 and “a variety of smaller reusable suborbital launch vehicles.”

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Written by Astro1 on April 9th, 2012 , Spaceports, SpaceX Tags: