Within the United States, commercial spaceport development has become a growth industry. Work is underway in New Mexico, California, and now in Oklahoma, to build the necessary infrastructure to support private space travel - and stimulate other commercial space enterprise too.
A newcomer to the spaceport club is the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority (OSIDA). It was issued a Launch Site Operator License this month--becoming the second inland U.S. spaceport on the books.
The Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) issued on June 12 the license to OSIDA. The OSIDA-run spaceport is being based at the Clinton-Sherman Industrial Airpark, located adjacent to the town of Burns Flat, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma: bustling gateway
The Oklahoma spaceport location is a good one to avoid airspace interference from military and other government activities.
A corridor within the National Airspace has been defined for spaceport operations to be conducted and that is something likely to serve as an incentive for new developers, according to the AST.
Since 1996, AST has issued site operator licenses to five other spaceports: California Spaceport at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Spaceport Florida at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Virginia Space Flight Center at Wallops Island, Kodiak Launch Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska and Mojave Airport in California.
All licensed commercial spaceport operators--including OSIDA--must enter into an agreement with the FAA regarding operations in the airspace prior to the issuance of their license.
The Oklahoma Spaceport is envisioned as a bustling gateway to space.
The formal signing of the spaceport license by AST was welcome news for Bill Khourie, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Space Authority. He's bullish about what appears to be a very promising future for commercial space in the United States and upbeat about the future of the Oklahoma spaceport.
"It has been a long journey--almost six years--but we remained focused and achieved our ultimate goal," Khourie told SPACE.com. "The dream of many that Oklahoma would become the planet's premier location for the launch and recovery of suborbital reusable space vehicles is now a reality."
This is a proud time for Oklahoma and especially for the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority, said Patricia Grace Smith, AST's Associate Administrator in Washington, D.C. "Their hard work has paved the way to a commercial position in space."
Smith said that Oklahoma is creating an "opportunity-environment" that will appeal to business, visitors and people with dreams of seeing a new view of the world they live in. "That's good news for the economy and good news for America's progress in space," she told SPACE.com.
"We are extremely pleased to see the successful results of years of hard work by OSIDA and FAA/AST in approving the license for the Oklahoma Spaceport," added Chuck Lauer, Vice President of Business Development for Rocketplane, based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
"This is the first time that an overland space flight launch corridor has ever been approved outside of restricted military air space, and it means that commercial human space flight is now open for business in Oklahoma," Lauer said.
Rocketplane is advancing its suborbital XP vehicle that can accommodate a pilot and three passengers. The fighter-sized craft is powered by both turbojet engines and a rocket engine and will haul paying customers up to the edge of space.
"We at Rocketplane are honored to be a part of this public/private partnership, and are looking forward to the start of our flight test program for the XP spaceplane next year," Lauer said.
Mojave: setting the bar high
The first inland spaceport at Mojave, California has already set the bar high, quite literally, in terms of history-making movement.
Licensed in June 2004, an FAA go-ahead authorized East Kern Airport District (EKAD) to operate a launch site at the Mojave Airport.
The Mojave Spaceport was the departure and landing site for the record-setting flights of SpaceShipOne. Designed and built by Scaled Composites of Mojave, California, the piloted rocketplane made repeated suborbital flights that same year, snaring the $10 million Ansari X Prize in the process.
Today, behind closed hangar doors at the Mojave Spaceport, and in a shroud of secrecy, master designer and head of Scaled Composites, Burt Rutan, is busy leading his team in fabricating a fleet of passenger-carrying SpaceShipTwo vehicles.
They are fulfilling an order placed by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic for five SpaceShipTwo vehicles and twin White Knight Two motherships. In July 2005, Rutan and Branson formed The Spaceship Company - a partnership focused on manufacturing and selling spaceships for the suborbital personal spaceflight industry.
Stuart Witt, general manager of the Mojave Airport/Spaceport and industrial park is quick to point out a striking fact: The only Americans to reach space in 2004 via a United States craft--SpaceShipOne--did so from Mojave Spaceport.
Early testing of SpaceShipTwo, as well as shakeout flights of the huge White Knight Two carrier plane, will be staged at the Mojave Spaceport.
Now under review by state lawmakers is a bill that would authorize funds to beef up the spaceport. It remains possible that the state will authorize the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (I-Bank) to loan EKAD requested funds. The mission of the I-Bank is to finance public infrastructure and private investments that promote economic growth, revitalize communities and enhance the quality of life throughout California.
"Our plan all along has been to construct hangars for research and development purposes on our new taxiway B, then construct a terminal for passenger training and operations," Witt advised SPACE.com.
New Mexico: Pathfinder work
Meanwhile, the pace of spaceport activity is quickening in New Mexico.
For example, UP Aerospace is turning up the volume of work on prepping their SpaceLoft XL suborbital rocket for a summer launch from the designated New Mexico spaceport grounds--roughly 45 miles north of Las Cruces and 30 miles east of Truth or Consequences.
Everything is progressing well at the spaceport in preparing for a liftoff of the firm's rocket, said Eric Knight, Chief Executive Officer of Connecticut-based UP Aerospace, Inc.
"We've completed our pathfinder activities at the spaceport. We successfully configured the vehicle hardware with our ground-support equipment. All has gone very smoothly. We have also successfully raised the vehicle into launch position on our 56-foot-tall, seven-ton launch rail," Knight told SPACE.com.
Knight said they have completed the installation of launch-crew consoles in their Launch Control Center (LCC). The LCC supports the flight and communication requirements of eight launch personnel, he added.
And there is other New Mexico spaceport news.
Moving forward...and upward
On June 13, New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans and General Services Secretary Arturo Jaramillo announced that DMJM/AECOM has been selected to provide professional services for the architectural and engineering programming stage of the Southwest Regional Spaceport project.
The primary work task for DMJM/AECOM is to conduct the programming and engineering work at the New Mexico spaceport, including, but not limited to hangers, control building, support buildings, roads, utilities, launch pads and fuel storage facilities.
The New Mexico Spaceport project is being orchestrated in two phases. Phase One will be the programming stage and Phase Two will include the full design stage.
The New Mexico Economic Development Department is currently working with various commercial space operations including Branson's Virgin Galactic that plans to be based there, Starchaser, UP Aerospace and others, on a program to establish the new Southwest Regional Spaceport at Upham, New Mexico.
In announcing the selection of DMJM/AECOM, Homans underscored that New Mexico is officially moving beyond just talking about a spaceport.
"We are moving forward with the actual programming, engineering and design," Homans noted. "New Mexico is doing something that has never been done before--anywhere in the world--building the world's first purpose built, commercial spaceport."
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Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as Space.com's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He was received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.