Science and Exploration

Our Nation Networks of Spaceports is Thriving – But More Needs to Be Done to Ensure Continued Growth

By Marc Boucher
August 7, 2014
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Our Nation Networks of Spaceports is Thriving – But More Needs to Be Done to Ensure Continued Growth
File photo: Artists concept of Houston spaceport.
Houston Airport Authority

The nation’s commercial spaceport network will be expanding from the “8 that are operating now, to 17 in the next few years,” Brian Gulliver, a spaceport development team leader at Reynolds, Smith and Hills, told an audience attending the panel “An Expanding Network of Commercial Spaceports” this morning at the AIAA SPACE 2014 Forum in San Diego.
The growth projections include both vertical launch and horizontal launch facilities. Spaceports expected to come on-line, after they pass extensive FAA scrutiny, will be located in multiple states, with new vertical launch facilities opening in Florida, Georgia and Texas, and horizontal launch facilities opening in Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, and Texas.

Scott Colloredo, director of Center Planning and Development at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, noted that “declining budgets and idle facilities have prompted the transition of Kennedy from a solely federal port to a mixed federal/commercial port.” Colloredo noted that the “firms like Boeing, Craig Technologies, and SpaceX, are all using the Center’s commercial launch facilities, including repurposing the iconic 39A and 39B launch pads, allowing Kennedy to offer clients a full range of lift capacity, from suborbital to beyond orbital.”

Other facilities experiencing launch growth include the vertical launch facilities at Kodiak, Alaska; Vandenberg Air Force Base, California; and the Mid-Atlantic Spaceport in Virginia. Horizontal launch facilities experiencing growth are located in Mojave, California; Jacksonville, Florida; Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Burns Flat, Oklahoma.

Despite the network’s burgeoning growth, barriers remain that threaten to stymy future growth. Mark Greby, the senior vice president and chief operating officer, Alaska Aerospace Corp., identified these barriers as: “uncertainty about access to launch facilities caused by government policies; a un-intended bias in procurement and acquisition policies which tend to favor federal ranges and specific launch providers; procurement policies which favor evolved expendable launch vehicles; a lack of long-term federal funding; difficulties faced by new firms getting a ‘voice’ at FAA and Department of Defense forums regarding commercial space issues, preventing them from becoming an equal player in the community.”

Todd Linder, senior manager of aviation planning and development at the Jacksonville Aviation Authority added that “horizontal launch facilities face concerns the impact of launch operations on domestic air traffic,” noting that the FAA initially balked at giving Jacksonville’s Cecil Spaceport an operations permit due to concerns about “launch traffic going through the heavily travelled east coast air corridor.” Linder also noted that “since the national air traffic control system stops at 60,000 feet , it’s logical to assume, with increasing launch traffic, that more than one vehicle would eventually be operating above the 60,000 foot threshold at one time, making determining how that traffic will be controlled a priority.” Linder felt that a lot of the barriers the panelists identified could be mitigated, or eliminated, through legislative initiatives crafted to remove many of the barriers identified by Greby.

“Spaceports, right now are islands, but they are starting to talk to each other, so the process of connecting and developing them must go on,” said Gulliver, reinforcing Greby’s earlier statement that spaceport growth is contingent on “creating dynamic partnerships with other launch sites.” Both Guliver and Greby reinforced the belief that by communicating and working together, the nation’s spaceport community will continue growing, and will continue providing robust launch services to all clients – further driving growth in the sector.

By Duane Hyland, special to SpaceRef

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.