Ellington Airport will be home to the tenth licensed commercial spaceport in the nation, a hub for sub-orbital travel, research and future space tourism. But don’t expect to hop on a rocket to Tokyo just yet — this is just one in a series of steps required by the FAA before the Houston Spaceport will be open for business. Texas Standard’s David Brown discusses all things spaceport with the Houston Chronicle’s Eric Berger.
On New Mexico’s spaceport flop:
“They wooed Virgin Galactic, which was going to conduct these $200,000 flights, and the state put up $200 million to build this beautiful facility in rural New Mexico where they can conduct these launches from. The facility has now been sitting there for about three years, completely unused. The tax payers are scratching their heads and saying ‘Where’s the spaceships?’ because they aren’t flying yet.”
What’s the license for, exactly?
“It’s not even clear to me how much the city of Houston has invested beyond the actual license for the spaceport — which I don’t think costs a whole lot. The city council hasn’t been asked to put up a lot of money and that kind of leads to the question, how serious is this? I think the city is going to basically go out there and say ‘Hey, we have all this space, we’re willing to modify it, we’re spaceport ready.’ If they can find find a lieutenant…and use some of the facilities there, maybe to build spacecraft parts or to build payloads that are going to go into space and be launched from elsewhere, they’re going to be doing that…. The license they have isn’t for rocket launchers this is for things that kind of look like the airplanes take off, go up and make a suborbital flight and then come back and land here on a runway.”
How far along is Houston to a physical spaceport?
“Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic have been promising it every year now for the last five, six years. They had a fatal accident last year which kind of set them back. There’s another company called XCore that’s in the process of moving their headquarters to midland. They’re also expected to offer suborbital space flights and I think they’re going to be doing their first test flight maybe within about a year…So you could go out and buy a ticket basically and fly 50 to 60 miles out in space and come back the same day but we’re not there yet.”