spaceflight in SpaceShipOne. A
new industry and potential airport
revenue stream were established.
Since the mid-1990s, the space
launch industry has been evolving
from medium- and heavy-lift orbital
vehicles to small, commercial
orbital and suborbital vehicles.
As technology advances, typical
payloads have become significantly
more compact, driving launchers
to develop smaller rockets.
This changing nature of space
transportation is spurring space
entrepreneurs toward smaller, more
responsive, commercially focused
vehicles that provide low-cost
solutions for private, educational
and governmental clients.
In the U.S., companies such
as Virgin Galactic, XCOR and
Generation Orbit are the thrust
behind comparatively low-cost
horizontal launches into space, with
conventional runway landings on
Earth. These companies eagerly are
developing a wide range of Reusable
Launch Vehicles (RLVs) that all have
unique operating styles.
To protect public health and the safety of property during commercial launch and
re-entry operations, the Commercial Space Launch Act established the Office of
Commercial Space Transportation (AST) under FAA.
In many ways, these RLVs are
similar to conventional aircraft in
that they use airport runways for
horizontal takeoffs and landings.
In the cases of Virgin Galactic and
Generation Orbit, they depart under
jet engine power, climb to around
40,000 feet mean sea level, and
detach their space vehicle, which
then ignites its rocket engine(s).
The carrier aircraft returns to
the spaceport for landing. The
XCOR vehicle, however, ignites its
rocket engines at the end of the
While RLVs share many
characteristics with typical aircraft,
they differ in several key areas,
including their steeper trajectories
and the propellants they carry
onboard. RLV companies are
designing vehicles to use common
fuels and oxidizers for propulsion
(Jet-A fuel, liquid oxygen, refined
kerosene or other solid and
liquid fuels) in order to avoid the
complications of handling the
highly toxic hazardous materials
found in conventional rockets.
Commercial Space Market
Several different revenue streams
can be marketed by airport
sponsors to improve U.S. space
competitiveness in the global
marketplace. Suborbital space
tourism is the largest initial
market — and the one that gets
the most attention. Depending on
how quickly this industry matures,
it has the potential to complete
hundreds of flights per year. A
secondary market of research and
technology also will emerge and
consist of a mix of small satellites
for remote sensing, technology
development and education, science
and communications. These markets
could grow as advances are made in
small satellite technology.
Despite Virgin Galactic’s recent
tragedy in Mojave, California,
horizontally launched RLVs show
great prospect for growth in the
coming decade. Thousands of
students, researchers, scientists
and the like will continue to seek
a cost-efficient method to conduct
research in space. As a result, there
will continue to be significant
competition among RLV developers
to create viable vehicles.
Airports to Spaceports
To protect public health and
the safety of property during
commercial launch and re-entry
operations, the Commercial Space
Launch Act established the Office of
Commercial Space Transportation
(AST) under FAA.
AST encourages, facilitates
and promotes commercial space
launches by the private sector.