California Lawmakers Back Mojave Spaceport Growth
California lawmakers took steps this week to provide an outlay of funds for the inland Mojave Spaceport, an action also designed to keep the state aggressive in public space travel and space enterprise.
The California Legislature has moved a bill to invest $11 million in the Mojave Spaceport. Noting competition from other states and nations, the Senate Committee on Transportation voted on a bipartisan 8-1 vote in favor of Senate Bill 1671 by State Senator Roy Ashburn that will ensure a competitive advantage for the first, and only, inland spaceport in the United States.
The measure would establish a loan mechanism for the East Kern County Airport District, which is home to the Mojave, California spaceport, through the state's Infrastructure Bank for the purposes of constructing research hangers and an astronaut education terminal at the Mojave Spaceport site.
A launch site operator license was granted by the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST) to the Mojave Airport on June 17, 2004 - making it the first inland spaceport on the books.
The Mojave Spaceport has already enabled one piece of history. It was from this location that the pioneering flights of the piloted SpaceShipOne suborbital rocket plane took place.
Sen. Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) announced on April 19 that two of his bills related to commercial space development in California passed their first committee hurdles this week. He represents the 18th Senate District including Tulare, Kern, Inyo, and San Bernardino counties.
Senate Bill 1671 provides an $11 million loan from the General Fund to the East Kern Airport District to construct the Mojave Spaceport Terminal. It passed the Senate Transportation Committee by a vote of 8-1.
"Once again California is on the brink of a whole new technological growth sector of our economy - privately operated space travel," Ashburn said in a press statement. "This exciting new industry will create jobs and wonders to rival the economic booms of the past century."
Ashburn called attention to the fact that, as other states compete for the commercial spaceport industry that began in Mojave, "it is only right that California steps up to the plate with this modest loan to help keep this 21st century industry here where it began."
California space enterprise
The Mojave Spaceport/Airport is presently the only licensed inland spaceport in the nation. In 2004, Scaled Composites, operating out of the Mojave Airport successfully launched and safely returned to Earth, the first privately funded spacecraft - SpaceShipOne. Based on two of the launches, the company was also awarded the $10 million X Prize.
The suborbital flights sparked the interest of Virgin Galactic's owner, billionaire Richard Branson, to partner with Scaled Composites to operate the world's first commercial spaceliner company.
Ashburn noted that a dozen private firms are home-based in Mojave performing sub-orbital and orbital projects supporting various elements to the emerging space travel industry, including XCOR Aerospace, AirLaunch Corporation, as well as Orbital Sciences.
Senate Bill 1671 appropriates $11 million as a loan to the East Kern Airport District for the construction of the Mojave Spaceport Terminal. The terminal project consists of two buildings, a hanger for advanced research and development of space flight technologies, and a Commercial Passenger Terminal and Educational Facility.
Also this week, California's Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee passed Senator Ashburn's Senate Bill 1698.
That bill provides $2 million to fund the California Space Enterprise Competitive Grant Program, established in 1997 to develop space enterprise in California. But that effort has not received funding since 2000. "Space enterprises" include the commercial use of space, space vehicle launches, space launch infrastructure, manufacturing, applied research, technology development, economic diversification, and business development.
Looking for a hand, not a hand out
The political movement by California in the arena of public space travel, spaceport development, and space enterprise is good news, said Stuart Witt, Mojave Airport manager.
The East Kern Airport District simply can't go up against New Mexico, Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas, Witt told SPACE.com.
"If the State of California desires to keep our current commercial space tenants then the state needs to find a way to participate in construction of acceptable infrastructures to accommodate this emerging industry. Otherwise they will go where a better 'deal' is offered. We are asking the state for a loan...a hand, not a hand out...of $11 million to finance construction of hangars and terminal facilities," Witt explained.
Witt points to the Sea Launch Corporation - a foreign firm utilizing the people's investment via the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach to operate off shore launches of commercial satellites.
"It is a shining example of public/private commercial space operations," Witt explained. Sea Launch pays fees and leases birth space from the people, the Port Authority which built the facility, he said.
"We at Mojave Spaceport are seeking state support to build needed infrastructure to accommodate off-shore investors and domestic investors to put people in space," Witt said. It's a slight twist to an already accepted practice, he added.
New economic sector
Witt pointed out that the bill now moves to the state's Finance Committee where there will be more questions and then to the floor for debate. "We have a ways to go, but the facts are finally making their way into Sacramento's political arena for review, debate and final consideration," he said.
"We will soon see if California wants this business or is willing to let New Mexico, Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma have it all," Witt concluded. "We are sincerely grateful to Senator Ashburn for carrying this bill and to the California Space Authority for their unwavering support of our efforts. We are very pleased by the outcome and appreciate the committee's very insightful questions, interest and depth of concern."
The industry finds itself on a cusp of an entirely new economic sector, observed Andrea Seastrand, the Executive Director of the California Space Authority in saluting the Mojave Spaceport initiative. "Space tourism is a reality, and the state, or nation, that incubates it successfully will reap the rewards of a booming job and revenue-creating machine," she said.
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