In the United States, the public knows about the “big three” launch centers sited in Florida, California, and Virginia. Anyone who’s had the displeasure of driving through central Florida has seen the billboards for Titusville – amidst the humidity. It’s the Space Coast’s tourist destination and gateway to the spaceport that keeps on giving: Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Then there’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, an hour northwest of Santa Barbara, Calif. No billboards on the nearby roads about its activities, but the drive there is prettier and less sticky. Vandenberg also launches rockets and missiles. Bringing up the rear of the trio is Wallops Island Flight Facility on Virginia’s east peninsula. Orbital is conducting all sorts of launches out of the Wallops facility.
It’s The New Spaceport Style
However, new spaceports are making plans to be busier than those three older ports. Some of them are well on their way to achieving that goal. Spaceport America in New Mexico considers itself “the nation’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport…” It already hosts a few well-known tenants: SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. The other not-so-well-known tenants are: UP Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace. It’s a busy place with SpaceX testing its Grasshopper reusable rocket and the other companies launching about 20 sub-orbital rocket flights so far. A possible problem for space tourists might be the spaceport’s location, which is about three and a half hours south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. That kind of places it in the middle of nowhere. But deserts can be pretty, I suppose.
If New Mexico is a little spartan for your tastes, there’s the Mojave Air and Space Port. People might know this California spaceport as the location from which SpaceShips One and Two launched. The activities of XCOR, Virgin Galactic, Scaled Composites, and The Spaceship Company alone makes Mojave seem to be a more happening place than Spaceport America. If you can handle the Los Angeles traffic.
Spaceports, Spaceports Everywhere, and Not a Ship to Fly
If you’ve paid careful attention, there are no space tourism flights occurring yet from these new spaceports. That means most launch and flight activity up until now have been tests conducted by the different tenants. But they aren’t the only new spaceports. There are other, lesser known spaceport contenders. Some have facilities and some have plans, but actual space tourism test activity is almost nil. A lot of them are pinning their success to companies like Virgin Galactic. Sometimes all it takes is a dream. Here are a few other new spaceport dreamers:
Spaceport Colorado – about 40 minutes east of Denver, wants to send professionals on sub-orbital flights to Asia and Europe. It doesn’t look very active.
Oklahoma Spaceport – just one and a half hours west of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma is supposedly aggressively trying to drum up space business. It does have a few tenants, such as Armadillo Aerospace and Rocketplane.
Cecil Spaceport – Jacksonville apparently has big plans for Cecil Spaceport. It looks like an Atlanta-based space launch company, Generation Orbit Launch Service, Inc., is leasing one of the hangars at Cecil Spaceport. But the spaceport website certainly doesn’t give much insight into any activities Cecil Spaceport is currently accomplishing.
Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska. Yes, Alaska, as in the state older people see from comfortable cruise ships because it looks pretty—from the ship. Under the aegis of the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, the complex has launched a few rockets in the past. But past launches were for government space operations, not necessarily commercial ventures. So, ironically then, the state that attracts tourists in ships, doesn’t really seem to have an agenda for tourists on spaceships.
There are burgeoning new spaceports in other countries too: Sweden, Australia, Curacao, and the United Kingdom. While not a comprehensive list, it is evidence of the growing global interest and investment in space tourism. But as with some of their American counterparts, all are waiting for the right ship to come sailing in. It’s hard to say when their plans will become a reality. That depends on Virgin Galactic and others and whether their sub-orbital ships will become popular.
It’s All About the Benjamins…and Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic, a key player in the sub-orbital tourism and transport development sector, is hoping to start sending actual tourists, at $250,000 per person, into space this year–possibly in the next few weeks. That means some spaceports should be more active soon. The other launch companies, such as XCOR, aren’t quite as close, nor as transparent, with their schedules. But if XCOR can make their plans a reality, the price of space travel will be less than half of Virgin Galactic’s per seat cost: $95,000-$100,000. Other companies seem to have only drawings/renderings of their spacecraft, but they are vying and vowing to push costs down to less than one third of XCOR’s prices.
The question about space tourism for new spaceport owners, even at those “low” prices, is: who can afford it? And will there be enough people with deep enough pockets to make spaceports and space tourism a profitable and thriving industry? Sir Richard Branson isn’t a dummy, and he’s leading the charge in this industry by putting his money where his mouth is. It’s obvious a few other companies are feeling just as comfortable with this idea. The limit is merely money and not the sky.
Just one practical question for these companies before it all starts: Is it possible to not have the TSA involved? That way traveling through space might be easier than getting on an airplane.