HOUSTON — The Texas Gulf Coast is poised to launch into the next generation of air travel with the development of a commercial spaceport.
Houston Airport System officials on Wednesday unveiled concept drawings of a proposed spaceport at Ellington Field.
The concepts gave a view of the overall project, including a terminal facility, an aviation museum and space for aerospace industries that would likely be located in the area should the spaceport receive the required approvals. If licensed, Houston would be home to the nation’s ninth spaceport.
“It’s important to realize that this type of work is already taking place today,” Houston Aviation Director Mario C. Diaz said. “This is not a conversation based on science fiction or futuristic projections. This is a conversation about how Houston can access and enhance an industry that is already well-established and growing exponentially.”
The launches being proposed for Ellington Field would involve reusable launch vehicles that use horizontal, rather than vertical, takeoffs, similar to commercial aircraft.
Should the required licensing be secured, the Houston Airport System would move forward in establishing the required infrastructure and support facilities needed to accommodate enterprises such as component and composite fabrication, space vehicle assembly, launching of microsatellites, astronaut training, zero-gravity experimentation and space tourism, Diaz said.
Contingent on getting the proper licenses to be a spaceport, Diaz expects the first parts of the spaceport to begin development within five to 10 years.
The proposed spaceport would be on about 450 acres of property at the Ellington complex.
Funding would come in part from the City of Houston, private investment and federal grants, Diaz said. He expects the ongoing funding for the complex would be through real estate transactions, including the lease of space to commercial spacecraft companies, support services and terminal space.
Diaz did not offer an estimated price tag to develop the spaceport at Ellington.
The $64 million question is, will it work?
Dan Seal, the special projects director for the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership is confident the answer is yes.
“If you look in the next decade or two decades, there’s a lot of interest, especially in suborbital flight,” Seal said. “Being able for people (such as) space tourists, businessmen and women to be able to fly from Houston to Beijing in an hour and a half, I think is a tremendous vision that people can wrap their arms around.”
There is also great potential for scientific research within the suborbital flight, which is about 100,000 feet.
Those working to develop the new generation of commercial spaceflight offered encouragement as well.
“It is gratifying to see Houston emerge as the latest applicant to join the growing network of spaceports across the country,” said Michael Lopez-Alegria, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. “The area has many attributes that appeal to commercial space entities, including geographical location that allows easy access to offshore airspace, a strong and diverse economy that provides an educated and skilled workforce, and, of course, a long tradition of close association with human spaceflight.”