Spaceports in the Wild West

On my trip across the United States last month, I was amazed to discover the race to build spaceports across the desert southwest. I passed by the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, which is the granddaddy of western spaceports (if you don’t count Vandenberg Air Force Base) from which many of Burt Rutan’s incredible aerospace designs have been launched. It is also where Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space travel rocket first launched in 2009.

I drove past New Mexico’s Spaceport America near Albuquerque, which seems buried in red ink these days, though it is the base for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket that plans to take travelers to sub orbital space about 60 miles above Earth. Virgin Galactic suffered a disastrous failure of its spacecraft last year and is building a new one which it plans to launch in the next several days. Google is renting hangar space from Virgin Galactic to test its new drone planes that can supply Internet accessibility anywhere.

Spaceport America recently lost a competition with Pima County, Ariz., to host high-altitude balloons. In fact, as I was passing through Pima County, its legislators voted to build a new spaceport that attracted World View, a startup space balloon firm. World View will sell you a ticket today for a ride into near space at 20 miles up for $75,000, about a third the price of a ride on SpaceShipTwo, though they don’t actually plan any flights until 2018.

World View Capsule

Photo by World View- If you’re in the mood to get close to space and see the Earth from higher than most of your friends, the cheapest way to go may be by balloon. World View’s balloon-hoisted capsule may not take you as high as Blue Origin or SpaceShipTwo rockets, but the cost will be far less—a mere $75,000 per trip.

World View plans to send surveillance devices, telescopes and anything else people will pay to get to 100,000 feet for research purposes. Ballooning to high altitudes can get you far above the Earth, but not nearly as high as a ride in Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin suborbital spacecraft, which completed its second vertical landing in Texas as I was driving east.

I also passed by the newly authorized Oklahoma Spaceport, which was built on the site of an old Naval air station, which later became the Clinton-Sherman Industrial Airpark, near Burns Flat. The FAA granted the spaceport a license for suborbital vehicles a decade ago but not much has launched since then.

A company called Rocketplane Kistler had intended to start a space tourism business from the Oklahoma Spaceport, but went bankrupt in 2010. A company called Armadillo Aerospace operated out of Oklahoma’s spaceport until 2009. Town officials have complained the spaceport is rundown and abandoned.

These days, with the second successful launch and recapture of the Blue Origin rocket in Culberson County, and with SpaceX building a spaceport near Brownsville, Texas may become the most important state from which private rockets will be launched.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek
for, The Daily Reckoning