Houston Spaceport, Still in Planning Stages, Has Its First Customer

Categories: Spaced City

DreamChaserSpace.jpeg
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This might be what it looks like when commercial space shuttles come to Houston.
If you thought trying to get app-based transportation approved here in Houston was tough, it'll be interesting to see how smoothly it goes developing a plan for commercial space flight.

Space travel is higher on the list, we think, especially since a project --- a planned public-private partnership, according to an airport official -- appears to be moving in the right direction. Last week the city signed a letter of intent with a Nevada-based spaceflight company, Sierra Nevada Corporation. The proposal, which will examine the potential of a partnership with the Houston spaceport, could lead to commercial flights using the company's Dream Chaser spacecraft.

The city's Houston Airport System has been working for several years on this idea of an airport dedicated partly to space travel. It would be based at Ellington Airport, the third and least commercially used airport in the system, which includes William P. Hobby Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

"We could be doing micro satellite deployment, zero gravity experiments, space tourism, vehicle assembly; the vision is to become a focal point of aerospace aviation," Arturo Machuca, manager for the spaceport project, said.

The plan, at least as airport officials and commercial space companies see it, is to put Houston back on the solar map for space innovation. But we're not there yet.

"Ellington is an airport that today hasn't been doing much airline activity. This airport is dedicated to corporate aviation, military and coast guard," Machuca said. "We have readily available 440 acres of land not being used in the southeast sector of Ellington, and our vision is to develop this with commercial aerospace companies, and for them to come and conduct different activities."

The Houston Business Journal talked to Sierra Nevada's corporate vice president of space systems, Mark Sirangelo.

Since the end of NASA's space shuttle program, Russian contractors have transported astronauts and cargo to and from the ISS, and Sirangelo said it is time to bring that work back to America. Commercial space experts have also planned the American development of this work for some time. Sirangelo described the Dream Chaser as "an efficient SUV for space," whereas the space shuttle was comparable to "a big moving van."

And since NASA nixed its space shuttle program, space flight activities are being looked at as the new growth area for airport executives. City aviation officials have been working on getting Ellington to spaceport status for nearly three years, said Machuca. A feasibility study, he said, called for using their existing land to get a license and certify the airport for use as a spaceport. Making it ready, he said, would cost under a million dollars.

The approval process is nearly 70 percent done, he said. Officials continue to work with the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. Indeed, space is the place.

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