(L-R): Alexander, Ochoa, Neild, Parker, Diaz, Altemus and Veck.
Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Houston Airport System (HAS), the City of Houston and NASA gathered Tuesday, June 30 at the Hobby Center downtown for the formal announcement of the FAA’s decision to grant a Launch Site License to allow Ellington Airport to become the nation’s 10th commercial spaceport.
[The other nine spaceports are: Edwards AFB – Edwards, CA, Vandenberg AFB – Lompoc, CA, Corn Ranch – Van Horn, TX, Cecil Airport – Jacksonville, FL, Kodiak Launch Complex – Kodiak Island, AK, Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport – Wallops Island, VA, Mojave Air and Space Port – Mojave, CA, Clinton-Sherman Industrial Airpark – Burns Flat, OK and Spaceport America – Sierra County, NM.]
Mario Diaz, Director of HAS, gave a brief history of the project.
“Two years ago, the HAS approached the Mayor and City Council and presented this idea. They have been supportive from the beginning,” Diaz said.
“The goal is to connect people, business, culture and economy to near-Earth space. We want to create the physical infrastructure and support for the commercial space industry. Man will occupy space and will utilize it to the betterment of all mankind,” concluded Diaz.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker took the stage to make the official announcement.
“The Houston Airport System provides airports that connect Houston to the rest of the globe.” Parker said. “Now, we want to connect Houston to space.”
Parker praised the existing benefits of Ellington Airport.
“Ellington already has runways, many buildings and some of the support we will need. The spaceport will provide the civic, commercial and retail infrastructure and the region will provide the support for the continued growth of commercial spaceflight. This spaceport represents not only Houston’s past, but its future.”
Dr. George Nield, Associate Administrator for FAA Commercial Space Transportation, said, “Ever since Russia sent Yuri Gagarin into space, the federal government has been responsible for defining, designing and implementing the space program. This is no longer the case. The next few years will see commercial companies offering suborbital space flights, making space travel an open market.”
Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center expressed enthusiasm about the spaceport. “JSC looks forward to sharing knowledge with HAS and the spaceport regarding safety, training and testing.”
Dr. David Alexander.
Dr. David Alexander, the Director of Rice University’s Space Institute, remarked, “This is a unique educational opportunity that the spaceport can foster. It opens up a wealth of opportunities for education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).”
Rice University, along with the Engineering Departments of University of Houston and University of Texas at Austin and the Engineering Experimental Station at Texas A&M University, has formed a partnership that they call the Texas University Space Consortium.
“Right now, it’s a group of friends from these universities having conversations,” Alexander said. “We want to define what this partnership will be. We have to figure out what we can do together, what we have to offer and how we can get funding before we start inviting other universities to join us. There’s no point bringing people to the table when you don’t know what you have yet.”
Alexander said that he’s looking forward to the inaugural SPACECOM Conference in November, where he hopes to be able to deliver more information.
President of Intuitive Machines, Steve Altemus, announced that his company has committed to be an anchor tenant at the spaceport. “Like Houston, Intuitive Machines prides itself on opportunity innovation and growth. We want to provide technical solutions across the aerospace, energy and medical fields.”
“We are also developing a Terrestrial Return Vehicle that will be able to bring cargo back to the spaceport from the ISS with an accuracy of 15 nautical miles. We have our first test flight scheduled for 2016 out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, but after that, we’ll test out of Ellington,” Altemus said.
Dr. Nick Veck from the CEO’s office of the UK-based Catapult Satellite Applications was happy to announce that they are the spaceport’s first international partner.
“I remember getting up at three in the morning to watch Neil Armstrong take those first steps on the moon,” Veck said. “Seeing that was what inspired me to make a career in the space industry. We are looking forward to organizing and developing new applications for consumers and businesses to use for space travel and all that comes with it.”
In closing, Diaz explained his vision for the Houston Spaceport. “We are going to home grow businesses in Houston. We’ll be an ‘incubator center’ for services, grants, accounting and payroll, marketing, personnel and more. We want to attract innovators to just come think and produce here, while we take care of the rest.”
Artist rendering of one of the spaceport buildings.
Situated near the Gulf of Mexico, and featuring more than 400 acres of land readily available for development, Ellington Airport is tailor-made for the requirements associated with an operating licensed Spaceport. As a whole, Houston offers a booming economy with a strong aerospace industrial base, a well-educated workforce with experience in the high-tech demands of space exploration and plenty of room for growth at a strategically located airport facility.
“We look forward to completing our vision to create an aerospace industry cluster at the Houston Spaceport,” said Arturo Machuca, the General Manager at Ellington Airport who has led the efforts to bring the spaceport project to EFD. “Now that we are officially the 10th commercial spaceport in the U.S. we are ready to work with our aerospace industry partners to take advantage of the unique location, infrastructure and human resources that the fourth largest city in the U.S. has to offer.”
For more information about the spaceport, visit Fly2Houston.com.