planned operations areas and
paths. As the
it’s reasonable to
expect that the
facilities will need
to become more
at the same time,
allow loosening of
some of the vehicle operational
also function as
working airports, including Cecil Spaceport in
Jacksonville and Mojave Air and Space Port in
California, have been careful to blend spaceport
operational plans into the aviation operation, so
that each impedes the other as little as possible.
Spaceport America, a $230 million develop-
ment funded by the state of New Mexico located
in the middle of the desert between Albuquerque
and Las Cruces, is currently under construction.
It is planned as a
port, and aircraft
wanting to use
America is cur-
rently the first
built for the sub-
orbital space tour-
ism market. However, due to its remote location, it
certainly will be impractical for use as an origin or
destination for point-to-point space travel, whose
facilities will need to be located close to major
population and employment centers.
Ellington Airport in Houston and Space Coast
Regional Airport in Florida currently are pursuing
launch licenses, and more airports have expressed
interest in the application process.
A launch license — and the new business it may
enable the airport to capture — seems like a natural course of action to take for airports wanting to
take a bold step into the future. However, the abil-
ity to launch spacecraft does include some limitations. Primary among them is the need to separate
a fully loaded spacecraft from inhabited buildings
and public areas.
By current standards, the oxidizer loading area
and launch runway must be a minimum of 1,250
feet from an inhabited building, and as vehicles
get larger and more capable, that distance may
increase. At many airports, those distances will
close parallel runways during launch operations,
limit the airport’s ability to lease non-aeronautical
property (or force tenant disruption during launch
operations), and require buildings to be evacuated
Although some airports eagerly accept those
limitations in exchange for the potential upside,
others may find the restrictions unpalatable. Take
heart, however. Advances in propulsion — similar
to the shift from propeller-driven airliners to jets
— may reduce the required separation distances or
may make oxidizer loading entirely unnecessary.
As the industry matures, the only certainty is that
there will be surprises along the way.
Designing spaceport operations to cohabit happily
with airport operations requires an analysis by someone familiar with both spacecraft and airport standards. The approval process is fairly complex and
time consuming. The payoff, however, is that certain
cachet that comes with helping a new generation of
travelers reach for the stars. A
Bill Sandifer, A.A.E., and Ken Ibold are with the RS&H Aviation
Program, which has conducted spaceport planning projects at
several airports around the U.S. They can be reached at bill.
email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.