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California Lawmakers Back Mojave Spaceport Growth

California lawmakers tooksteps 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 andspace enterprise.

TheCalifornia Legislature has moved a bill to invest $11 million in the MojaveSpaceport. Noting competition from other states and nations, the SenateCommittee on Transportation voted on a bipartisan 8-1 vote in favor of SenateBill 1671 by State Senator Roy Ashburn that will ensure a competitive advantagefor the first, and only, inland spaceport in the United States.

Themeasure would establish a loan mechanism for the East Kern County AirportDistrict, which is home to the Mojave, California spaceport, through the state'sInfrastructure Bank for the purposes of constructing research hangers and anastronaut education terminal at the Mojave Spaceport site.

Alaunch site operator license was granted by the Federal AviationAdministration's Office of the Associate Administrator for Commercial SpaceTransportation (AST) to the Mojave Airport on June 17, 2004 - making it thefirst inland spaceport on the books.

TheMojave Spaceport has already enabled one piece of history. It was from thislocation that the pioneering flights of the piloted SpaceShipOne suborbitalrocket plane took place.

Spaceport terminal

Sen. Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) announced on April 19 that two of his bills relatedto commercial space development in California passed their first committeehurdles this week. He represents the 18th Senate District including Tulare, Kern, Inyo, and San Bernardino counties.

SenateBill 1671 provides an $11 million loan from the General Fund to the East KernAirport District to construct the Mojave Spaceport Terminal. It passed theSenate Transportation Committee by a vote of 8-1. 

"Onceagain California is on the brink of a whole new technological growth sector ofour economy - privately operated space travel," Ashburn said in a pressstatement. "This exciting new industry will create jobs and wonders to rivalthe economic booms of the past century." 

Ashburncalled attention to the fact that, as other states compete for the commercial spaceport industry that began in Mojave, "it isonly right that California steps up to the plate with this modest loan to helpkeep this 21st century industry here where it began."

California space enterprise 

TheMojave Spaceport/Airport is presently the only licensed inland spaceport in thenation. In 2004, Scaled Composites, operating out of the Mojave Airport successfully launched and safely returned to Earth, the first privately fundedspacecraft - SpaceShipOne. Based on two of the launches, the company was alsoawarded the $10 million X Prize.

Thesuborbital flights sparked the interest of Virgin Galactic's owner, billionaireRichard Branson, to partner with Scaled Composites to operate the world's firstcommercial spaceliner company. 

Ashburnnoted that a dozen private firms are home-based in Mojave performingsub-orbital and orbital projects supporting various elements to theemerging space travel industry, including XCOR Aerospace, AirLaunchCorporation, as well as Orbital Sciences.

SenateBill 1671 appropriates $11 million as a loan to the East Kern Airport Districtfor the construction of the Mojave Spaceport Terminal. The terminalproject consists of two buildings, a hanger for advanced research anddevelopment of space flight technologies, and a Commercial Passenger Terminaland Educational Facility.

Alsothis week, California's Senate Business, Professions and Economic DevelopmentCommittee passed Senator Ashburn's Senate Bill 1698. 

Thatbill provides $2 million to fund the California Space Enterprise CompetitiveGrant 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 launchinfrastructure, manufacturing, applied research, technology development,economic diversification, and business development. 

Looking for a hand, not a hand out

Thepolitical movement by California in the arena of public space travel, spaceportdevelopment, and space enterprise is good news, said Stuart Witt, Mojave Airport manager.

TheEast Kern Airport District simply can't go up against New Mexico, Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas, Witt told SPACE.com.

"Ifthe State of California desires to keep our current commercial space tenantsthen the state needs to find a way to participate in construction of acceptableinfrastructures to accommodate this emerging industry. Otherwise they willgo where a better 'deal' is offered. We are asking the state for a loan...ahand, not a hand out...of $11 million to finance construction of hangars andterminal facilities," Witt explained.

Wittpoints to the Sea Launch Corporation - a foreign firm utilizing the people'sinvestment via the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach to operate off shore launchesof commercial satellites. 

"Itis a shining example of public/private commercial space operations," Wittexplained. Sea Launch pays fees and leases birth space from the people, the PortAuthority which built the facility, he said.

"Weat Mojave Spaceport are seeking state support to build needed infrastructure toaccommodate 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

Wittpointed out that the bill now moves to the state's Finance Committee wherethere will be more questions and then to the floor for debate. "We have aways to go, but the facts are finally making their way into Sacramento'spolitical arena for review, debate and final consideration," he said. 

"Wewill 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 sincerelygrateful to Senator Ashburn for carrying this bill and to the California SpaceAuthority for their unwavering support of our efforts. We are very pleasedby the outcome and appreciate the committee's very insightful questions,interest and depth of concern."

Theindustry finds itself on a cusp of an entirely new economic sector, observed AndreaSeastrand, the Executive Director of the California Space Authority in salutingthe Mojave Spaceport initiative. "Space tourism is a reality, and the state, ornation, that incubates it successfully will reap the rewards of a booming joband revenue-creating machine," she said.

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